What is the most psychologically damaging thing you can say to a child?

In this guide, we will discuss “What is the most psychologically damaging thing you can say to a child” according to the experts and a few examples that we can identify with and that we may think they are ‘innocent’ or ‘simple’ comments but with a very damaging outcome. For instance, as silly as it may sound, threatening to leave your kid in the park if he/she is not listening to your instructions can be a very damaging strategy. 

What is the most psychologically damaging thing you can say to a child?

If you wonder ‘What is the most psychologically damaging thing you can say to a child?’ because you’d like to avoid saying something that could potentially be detrimental then, we can tell you that saying things like ‘I don’t love you’, ‘you were a mistake’, ‘you were not supposed to be born’ or ‘I don’t want you’ are considered the most damaging things you could say to your child.  

Moreover, avoid saying anything you may think is something you wouldn’t have wanted to hear when you were a child. Children are like sponges and they not only learn and absorb what they hear and listen from other people but also start forming ideas and thoughts about things happening around them. We could be raising insecure and anxious kids with low self-esteem without even being aware of it so it is really important to be careful.

Many parents constantly after many efforts ask themselves ”What am I doing wrong?

Threatening to leave your kids behind

As indicated by Alice Walton from The Atlantic, “We’ve all been there: It’s time to leave the park and your kids just won’t go. They run; they hide; they refuse. And you become more and more frustrated and angry. It’s tempting to take this tack when your kids just won’t get on board with what you’re trying to do (especially if they’re throwing a full-fledged tantrum)…”

However, the threat of abandonment can cause a lot of damage to a child even if you were just pretending or joking about it. An insecure type of attachment can be a result and as many experts have indicated, a secure feeling of attachment to parents or caregivers is one of the most important things in a child’s development.

Psychologically damaging words

Some experts advise avoiding the use of words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ because they are considered psychologically damaging to children, especially if we tend to use the word ‘you’ in front of them. Can you remember a time you used those two words? Probably nothing will come to mind right now but now that you are aware, you will notice you use them more often than not.

For instance, if we see our child playing in the living room and once he finishes we see he has the intention to go and watch some TV so we say something like ‘You always leave everything so messy and disorganized’ or ‘you never consider picking up your toys when you finish’. Perhaps it sounds like a fact to us but it goes against what we want.

In this particular case, if you want your child to clean after he/she finishes playing then it is important to avoid suggesting to them that they never do it. However, it is not considered the most psychologically damaging thing to say but saying something like ‘Now, what did you do?’ may cause some damage. This implicates that you are expecting your child to misbehave and when they do, you are reinforcing it with the previous statement. 

Name-calling, belittling and ‘white lies’

Saying things like ‘You are so dumb’, ‘You are so stupid’ or what is wrong with you?’ are the kind of statements that come naturally to some parents. These types of statements imply your child is broken, that something is simply not right with them. When we feel frustrated or overwhelmed we could say some things we might regret later such as: ‘I never should have kids in the first place!’, why? Because we are implying they have ruined our lives or changed our plans at some point with their arrival.

The words we use will send a clear message and that is how annoying or inconvenient they are. We can make them feel unwanted or not loved even if it is not our intention. Besides, ‘white lies’ can send the wrong message without even knowing how.

For instance, if we say to our child ‘Oh, don’t you worry, nothing bad is going to happen’ and it does then we are lying to them. Ask yourself, what is going to happen when they find out that bad things do happen? But not only ‘bad’ things, we mean the kind of things or situations that can be regarded as painful or difficult. They are part of life and they will eventually have to go through them whether we like it or not.

Trying to change them, comparing them or telling them they ‘can’t’

For instance, saying things like ‘I wish you were more like your brother’, ‘I wish you were smarter’ or ‘I wish you would listen to me’. We say these types of things as parents but what are we doing here? It is not like we are rubbing a magic lamp and the genie is going to pop out and grant us three wishes.  

The message here is telling our kids they are just not good enough the way they are and we ‘wish’ we could just change them. Now, think for a minute about the times you have said something like this. The idea is not to make you feel awful about it but to make a conscious change and stop doing it.

Finally, we can consider telling out kids things like ‘you can’t…’ as one of the most psychologically damaging things we could say. For instance, we say ‘You can’t dance, that is for dumb people’ or ‘You can’t be a scientist, you are not smart enough’, Ouch! 

If we think about all the ways we could be filling our children with fears and lowering their self-esteem then we would be very surprised. But Why is this so damaging? Because we are limiting them and filling them up with fears. Our brain processes the word ‘can’t’ in a way that we get stuck or paralyzed from finding possible solutions and ways to do things. Instead, we need to teach our children that they can handle anything and how the sky’s the limit. 

This will not only open a world of possibilities to them but also teach them to find ways to cope, adapt, innovate, get creative and become whoever they want. 

Why is this blog about What is the most psychologically damaging thing you can say to a child important?

We know being a parent is not easy and sometimes we just want to do our best but we don’t know-how. Moreover, we sometimes wonder if something we said shouldn’t have been said in the first place and we wish we could take it back but it is already too late. As we have discussed, many potential statements are very powerful but not in a good way. 

Subsequently, we talked about the type of statements that we should avoid and how we could change them. For instance, telling your kid that he or she ‘can’ do something even if it sounds super crazy, instead of just saying ‘You can’t’ all the time. Also, this will prevent them from filling themselves with a bunch of fears and stopping them from becoming who they are supposed to and even more so, we want them mentally and emotionally strong to face difficult situations in life.

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about What is the most psychologically damaging thing you can say to a child

What should you not say to your child?

Here are some things to avoid saying to your child:
‘Because of you, my life was ruined’
‘You are so dumb’
‘You can’t do anything right’
‘It’s not a big deal’ or ‘stop whining’
‘Why do I have to repeat the same thing over and over?’
‘Big boys don’t cry’
‘Big boys/big girls don’t do that’

What is a toxic child?

A toxic child is believed to be the product of an unsatisfactory upbringing. Children who are spoiled and pampered can become ‘toxic’. Also, toxic children don’t know about boundaries or limits, they usually don’t respect authority and easily manipulate their parents.

What do you do when your child says hurtful things?

When your child says hurtful things it is recommended to:
Avoid saying hurtful things back at them.
Don’t scream or yell at your child.
Don’t try to talk or reason with your child in the heat of the moment because it may backfire.
Avoid punishing your child.
Stay calm and take a deep breath before saying anything.
Be aware of your nonverbal communication.

How do you raise a psychologically healthy child?

If you would like to raise a psychologically healthy child, here are some useful tips:
Teach specific and life skills.
Allow your child to make mistakes.
Encourage your child to speak and express what they feel.
Teach your child how to face their fears.
Allow your child to feel uncomfortable.
Build character.
Make gratitude a priority.

Is it OK to tell a child to shut up?

It is not OK to tell your child to ‘shut up’. Parents may tell their kids to shut up when they can’t handle the situation, they can’t take it anymore or want to exert control over the situation but there are several other reasons why this could happen. However, when they tell their children to ‘shut up’ it usually comes with yelling or screaming and hostile body language. Children can learn a lot from this type of reaction and a simple ‘shut up’. Remember that you should be a model of good and positive behaviour.


Live on purpose (Youtube Channel). “What Is The Most Psychologically Damaging Thing You Can Say To A Child”

Walton, A.G. (2011, Oct.) 12 Ways to Mess Up Your Kids. Retrieved from theatlantic.com.

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