Four Things to Stop Saying When Talking To Your Kids

Why is it important to be mindful of what you say to and in front of your kids?

Neuroscience tells us that the conscious mind begins to develop at about age six and doesn’t fully develop until about age twelve. Therefore, the mind of a child before the age of six is their subconscious mind.  Neuroscience also tells us that about 95% of what we do is controlled by our subconscious mind and beyond our awareness. Therefore, almost everything we say to our kids before the age of six goes directly into their subconscious minds. The majority of their decisions, actions, emotions, and behaviors will be determined by what is in the subconscious mind. This is why it is so important to be mindful of what you say to and in front of your kids. the phrase. Your words will become part of your child’s inner/subconscious voice. 

# 1 Phrase to Stop Saying - Good Job

Why should we stop saying, “good job?”

When my children were young, it was the prevailing wisdom that we should praise our kid’s every move to build their self-esteem. If they worked hard at something, we should use superlatives like fantastic, awesome, and amazing.   Many parents weren’t sure how to best do this and said, “good job” or “way to go,” believing it was building their child’s self-esteem. The phrase “good job” isn’t wrong, but it loses its motivating incentive when over-used, leaving the child dependent on others for affirmation. “Good job” is also conditional. It conveys children earn our praise, approval, and acknowledgment by jumping through our hoops and doing things that please us.

We want to teach our children to look in, not out, for approval, acknowledgment, and affirmation.

Instead of saying, “Good Job,” – use phrases like: 


  • “Great teamwork in working with Michael building that block tower.”
  • “You’re getting really good at printing your name.” 
  • “You did that all by yourself!”
  • “I see you colored the sky purple; I would love to know how you thought to make it purple.” 
  • “Thank you for being so kind and sharing with your sister.” 
  • “I’m noticing all the books are put back on the shelf.”
  • “Which part of your picture do you like best.”
  • “Can you show me how you built that block tower?”
  • “You are learning to balance on one foot.”
  • “You look excited.” 


Notice how often you use the phrase “Good Job,” and replace a few of those “good job” statements with one of the above phrases. During the next several weeks, notice your child’s response. What do you observe? Is there a sense of personal accomplishment in your child? Do you hear them repeat some of the phrases? Is there an inner motivation that wasn’t there before?

#2 Phrase to Stop Saying - "Don’t Cry, it’s Ok:"

Why do we say, “don’t cry, don’t cry, it’s ok?” We say it because we feel overwhelmed by our child’s big feelings.  It’s hard to sit and see someone else’s pain.  Their intense emotions trigger us because we likely had to shut down our intense emotions when we were little.  I know it comes from a place of love.  But how often does telling our child not to cry work?

There is nothing wrong with your chid’s tears.  It is ok to let your child feel upset or sad.  However, if your child begins to associate their big feelings of sadness with you getting upset, they may decide, “oh no, my feelings are so big that even my mom/dad can’t handle them.  I had better shut them down.”

You are sending the message that feeling sad is not only wrong; it is also not safe.  Your child may be left feeling alone in her feelings and rejected by their primary caregiver.  This is a frightening way of being for a child and often intensifies their feelings.

Five things we can say instead of saying, "don't cry, don't cry?"

First, drop down to just below their eye level.  Connect by looking them in the eyes and putting a gentle hand on their shoulder.  You might say:

  • “I’m right here.”
  • “I can see how upset you are.”
  • “That fall looked like it hurt.”
  • “I’ll stay right here with you while you are upset.”
  • “You are safe.”

Remember that it isn’t your responsibility to fix or remove your child’s feelings.  You aren’t a failure as a parent when your child is whining, upset, or tantruming.  You may need to pause, take a deep breath and remind yourself.  “I am a good parent.  My child is a good child.”  It’s important not to make your child’s feelings mean something about you.  When your child has big feelings, it usually has nothing to do with you.  It is critical to separate your feelings from your child’s feelings and not take your child’s feelings as your own.  When you don’t make our child’s feelings mean something about you, you can sit with our child lending your presence within the feelings.

It is tough to sit with someone in their intense emotions.  Think about how difficult it is to sit with your partner or a good friend when they are upset and feeling intense feelings.

We have a strong desire to fix things, problem-solve with them, or comfort them and say, “It’s ok – don’t cry!”

Notice when you are experiencing discomfort when your child, your partner, or you are experiencing big feelings.  Notice if you can sit and be present in the discomfort.

Notice when you are experiencing discomfort when your child, your partner, or you are experiencing big feelings.  Notice if you can sit and be present in the discomfort.

# 3 Phrase to Stop Saying - "Say You’re Sorry:"

The other evening in the Emergency Department, two siblings about ages four and six were bored with sitting and waiting for mom to get an x-ray of her ankle. As time passed, their boredom increased. There was only one visitors’ chair in the exam room where they were waiting. It wasn’t long before a tussle over who got to sit on the chair began. As the conflict escalated, mom yelled at them, “Stop it before someone gets hurt.” They stopped briefly and then went back to arguing and shoving each other. Both were trying to sit in the chair while preventing the sibling from joining them. After a few more minutes of arguing, the older one shoved her younger sister hard enough that she knocked her younger sibling off the chair onto the floor. This action caused a flood of tears, with Mom demanding the older one apologize immediately. The older one looked down and mumbled, “sorry.” However, it wasn’t long before they were back to fighting over the chair again.

Why do we tell our kids to, “say you’re sorry?”

Why do we instruct our children to “say you’re sorry” when our child makes a mistake and does something that hurts someone else.

  • We are shocked in the moment.
  • We may be embarrassed if the mistake happened in a public place.
  • We are upset and disappointed in their choices.
  • We feel like we need to make amends for their behavior.
  • We want them to make amends.
  • Conditioning in Western culture teaches us to say “sorry” when we make a mistake.
  • As a parent, we want to teach our kids to apologize for their behavior when they make a mistake.

Three reasons we should stop telling children to say, "I'm sorry."

  • It induces shame resulting in resistance on the part of the child.
  • The brain of a child under the age of four or five isn’t developed enough to understand a genuine apology, therefore when a parent instructs their child who may have hurt another child, “say I’m sorry.” The child merely parrots the word, “sorry.” The likelihood that the child is genuinely sorry is very low. The child may learn parroting gets them out of trouble.
  • If there is no teaching or the child isn’t asked to change any of their behaviors, the apology doesn’t change the behavior. A few minutes later, the child is back doing the same thing.

What are six things to do instead of telling our kids to, “say you’re sorry?”

  • The emotions are big at the moment. First, we need to step back and quietly take our child aside.
  • Then connect by dropping down to their eye level and helping them calm down.
  • Next, name the feelings and emotions that led to the behavior. Say, “you saw Emma playing with the truck that you wanted. You felt jealous and angry that you didn’t have the truck. Then you pushed Emma and took the truck. Is that right? “
  • Let your child know why the behavior isn’t ok. Say, “It’s not ok to push Emma and take the truck when you are upset.”
  • Help your child understand how their behavior affected another child. Say, “Emma is sad and crying because you pushed her and took the truck.”
  • Finally, help your child make amends. Brainstorm with your child how to make amends. Maybe the other child needs a hug.

Use your ESP- Emotional Social Parenting to see your child’s mistakes as an opportunity to teach empathy and make amends.

#4 Phrase to Stop Saying - "Stop and Don’t:"

Have you had one of those days where it seems like you are constantly telling your kids to Stop or Don’t do______? Fill in the blank with unacceptable behavior.

  • “Stop running in the house!”
  • “Don’t jump on the couch!”
  • “Stop throwing the blocks!”
  • “Don’t hit the dog!”

What can you do and say instead?

First, meet your child where she is and connect with her. The connection makes it more likely that she will do what you ask. Then say to her, “I won’t let you (insert your child’s unacceptable behavior).” You are telling your child, “I will keep you safe by stopping your unsafe behavior.’ Then tell her how to safely express her urge by telling her what she can do instead.

What should you do and say instead of saying, "Stop and Don’t?"

Go over to your child and drop down to just below her eye level. Once you have connected, say:

  • “I won’t let you run in the house; you can go outside and run around the yard.” Remember, you may need to go with her if safety is a concern.
  • “I won’t let you jump on the couch; you can jump on the floor as long as you want.”
  • “I won’t let you throw blocks. Let’s get your nerf balls and throw them.”
  • “I won’t let you hit the dog. Here is a pillow you can hit instead.”

Tell your child that all of her big emotions are important and ok to have. Your message is, “I am here with you to help you learn how to express your big feelings in a way that keeps you and everyone else safe.” This feeling of safety for a child leads to emotional regulation.


Being a parent is challenging but important work.  We all want to raise kids that are kind, independent, thoughtful adults.  What we say to our kids during the early years of their life will determine much of who they become.  Their decisions, actions, emotions and behaviors are all impacted by the words we use.  Remember, it is never to late use emotional social parenting (ESP) to help you parent more effectively.