Parents truly mean well when they are trying to guide their children towards adulthood. However, sometimes well-meaning conversations take a wrong turn. According to the experts, Dr. Willian Stixrud and Ned Johnson, authors of, “The Self-Driven Child,” in a recent CNBC article, here is advice on how to replace four negative phrases that don’t work when teaching your kids self-discipline.


1. “If you don’t work hard now, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

This statement instills fear in children. Stixrud and Johnson state that, in fact, this statement can be detrimental for kids. They are reminded of how important it is that they do better, become more stressed — and sometimes they can become avoidant. Another reason why this phrase doesn’t really work, kids aren’t really capable of thinking that far ahead like adults are.

Do this instead:

  • Encourage them: “You haven’t mastered [doing X] yet, but you can get better at it. Look how far you’ve come already!”
  • Help them see the positives: “Yes, [doing X] is hard. But if you keep practicing, you’ll have more confidence that you can face future challenges like this, and you’ll feel really good.”
  • Don’t make it all about school: “I know [X class] has been difficult, but I love that you’re working hard at baseball — and I’m confident you’ll be able to work just as hard in class if you put in the same amount of effort.

2. “It’s my job to keep you safe.”

As children get older and become pre-teens and teenagers, keeping them safe isn’t always a job that parents can successfully say that they can do. Parents are not with their children at this age 24-7 and making this statement gives way to the children thinking that it’s the parents job to keep them safe, and not theirs. This can open the door for them to be re more apt to behave recklessly, thinking there is always a safety net when really, there is not.

Do this instead:

  • Calmly explain your concerns: “I don’t feel comfortable with this, and here’s why…” Allow them to make mistakes. Carefully letting your kids learn a hard lesson on their own, and then talking to them about it after the fact will give them great insight.
  • Talk through perceived dangers together: “I have some concerns about [X], but I also imagine you have a different idea in your head. Can you tell me how you’ll handle things if [X] goes bad, so that we both feel comfortable?”

3. “I’m punishing you because you have to learn that this behavior is unacceptable.”

Enforcing punishment might give a false sense of control. Research shows that being the “enforcer” can hurt your relationship with your child and is ineffective for changing behavior. The more parents threaten or “enforce,’ the more children are apt to lie and hide what is really going on when they actually need help.

Do this instead:

  • If they don’t want to hear your opinion, don’t force it on them. The goal is to teach, which only happens when they’re actually listening. If you communicate respectfully, they’ll be more likely to come to you at another time: “I felt pretty upset about what just went down and I suspect you may, too. Can we talk later about how to get a better outcome if this happens again?”
  • Talk with them, not at them: “I need you to know that I’m not okay with what you did, but I really want to understand where you are coming from.”
  • Discuss the consequences in advance, and make sure you both agree with them. Be specific, strategic and reasonable. (We’ve also always wondered why some parents think “You’re grounded forever!” is an appropriate reaction to everything their kids do wrong.)

4. “You spend too much time on you phone.”

Remember spending hours at the arcade or in front of gaming systems? Remember passing notes in school? Would you have taken kindly then to someone suggesting that that part of your life wasn’t valid or suggestion that you cut it out? Well, that it they way children can feel when this is said to them. Social media and gaming are a part of their social world. Parents need to teach them how to manage the relationship, not cut it out.

Do this instead:

  • Increase your influence by showing interest in what interests them. Ask about the games they play, people they follow, shows they watch, books they read — and partake with them, at least some of the time. Power struggles have no winners long-term.
  • Give them a reason to get off their phones: “I noticed that you haven’t been spending any time with us since you got home from school. Do you want to go to the library and pick out some new books?”
  • Mentor more than you monitor: “How much more time do you need to finish up what you’re doing? I don’t want to cut you off [doing X thing], but I also want you to be on your phone in a way that seems balanced.”
Tiffany Silva

Tiffany Silva

Writer and Editor

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