Find out about the worst words, phrases, and sentences you can say to your parents, why they’re so damaging, and what you can say instead.
Why words hurt
We’ve all said the wrong thing at times, leaving our parents feeling angry, hurt, or confused. Words can be eternally damaging, especially coming from kids who are supposed to respect and love their parents. “At some level, most parents question themselves and wonder whether they’re good parents and whether they’re doing the best for their children,” Elizabeth Jeglic, PhD, a professor of psychology at John Jay College in New York and coauthor of Protecting Your Child from Child Abuse: What You Need to Know to Keep Your Kids Safe. “When children say hurtful things, it taps into those fears and insecurities and makes them more real, causing pain.” Find out how to rid some of the worst offenders from your language and substitute them with some better and kinder alternatives.
“So and so’s mom is better than you”
Your mom can’t always agree to let you jet off to Paris with your college roommate or drive cross country solo. She’s trying to be the best parent she can be so that you’ll be the best kid you can be. Her job as a parent isn’t always to be popular but to offer love, freedom, and guidance with age-appropriate boundaries, says Gary Brown, PhD, LMFT, a relationship therapist in Los Angeles. And telling her that someone else’s parent is better will definitely hurt her ego. “A child should point out an observation followed by a question,” says Jarret Patton, MD, pediatrician and author of Whose Bad @$$ Kids Are Those? A Parent’s Guide to Behavior for Children of all Ages. For example, try, “Annie’s mom is letting her travel alone. Why won’t you let me?” By stating an observation, there is little to feel defensive about from the parental view. Following up with a question can give your parent a chance to explain the difference in parenting styles while allowing you to express yourself.
“I wish you weren’t my dad”
You really don’t mean it, but in the heat of the moment, that’s what you said. You just want a different type of dad, at that second. You don’t feel like your dad understands your experience, says Brown. “A child, like many adults, loses her filter when emotions run high,” says Dr. Patton. “Painful statements can be the result. Oftentimes, this is simply a developmental stage in younger children who don’t have enough reasoning skills [but grown children can lose their temper, too]. Wishing away a parent or saying ‘I hate you’ may be the only response a child can muster.” Don’t take it personally as the parent, however hard it may seem, says Dr. Patton. When your child calms down, have a straightforward conversation. Have the child express his emotions and reasoning, says Dr. Patton. He should use “I feel __ when…” language. “This can build more trusting, respectful and deeper relationships while teaching them about using hurtful language,” says Dr. Patton.
“You told me that already”
We’ve all said things more than once and repeated ourselves, so don’t lose your patience or cool when it’s your mom or dad. “By telling your parent that he or she repeated themselves, you’re coming off as rude and snarky, and even implying that they’re slipping mentally,” says Stacey Laura Lloyd, a relationship writer, and coauthor of Is Your Job Making You Fat? How to Lose the Office 15…and More! “As a result, don’t be surprised if they respond angrily, curtly or even accusingly.” Instead, try to lighten the mood. Say something like “Really? No way! And then you did…”
“I wish you were dead”
You’ve been pushed to your limit. Your mom has given you advice on your son’s poor eating habits yet again. You’re done with her unsolicited judgment. “You’re only changing the topic to make yourself in control of the situation,” says Lynn R. Zakeri, LCSW, who practices in the Chicago area. You may be upset but communicate respectfully and without being hurtful. Instead, Zakeri suggests you should say something like, “When I want your advice, I’ll ask for it.” “It’s more honest, to the point and relevant,” she says. Keep an open mind, moms have been known to have some pretty good advice.
“You look ugly today”
“Even in the best of parent-child relationships, there will be challenging moments,” says Brown. Just like you don’t want to be told that you don’t look good, the same goes for your parents. Those words are insulting and hurtful. Chances are, you’re just looking for a reaction, attention, a distraction from the current state of affairs or a way to express anger, says Zakeri. Say what you really mean instead, being respectful as you do so. “The Golden Rule that children often hear from parents certainly applies to how children interact with their parents as well as others: Treat your parents the way you want to be treated,” says Brown.
“I bet you can’t wait to get back to work”
It’s dated to say that dads feel more comfortable at the office than with their grandkids. Your dad most definitely loves spending time with his grandchildren and likely enjoys spoiling them too. “While a man’s self-esteem and ego are driven by his career success, balancing family life and career are difficult for men,” says Julie Spira, a relationships expert, CEO of Cyber-Dating Expert and author of The Perils of Cyber-Dating. “Try not to make him feel guilty about his time away from you.” We’re sure he’d rather play with LEGOS than process an expense report. Instead, tell him how glad you are that he’s with his grandkids.
“You love my brother/sister more than me”
You know your parents love you the same. But when you have a sibling, it’s normal to ask your parents this question. You’re looking for affirmation, likely during an argument. You’re using it to distract your mom and manipulate her. Don’t get into an argument about who your mom loves more. Instead, focus on what’s really going on. “Always speak to the behavior and explain your feelings in a way that isn’t accusatory,” says Jeglic. “When we make accusations, parents become defensive and the conversation stops. More often than not, there will be a reason why your parents did something with another sibling and not you and they can explain it.” For example, if your parent gave your brother a more generous present than you, you can say, “When you bought my brother a bigger gift than me, it hurt my feelings and made me feel like you cared about him more than me.” “If this is said in a calm manner, then the parent can explain his or her reasoning and you can have a discussion about it,” she says. It’s not only parent-child relationships that can be fraught with tension; try these 11 ways to have a better relationship with your siblings.
“You’re a bad mom”
Kids are often quick to say this phrase when they don’t agree with a decision a parent made or when they’re not allowed to do something that everyone else their age is doing. But, “Personal attacks are a sure fire way to shut down any discussion and have it evolve into a shouting/anger match,” says Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, a psychotherapist, and relationship coach who practices in McLean, Virginia. “You can open up the lines of communication by respectfully asking your parent to listen to what you have to say, then keep your comments free from any comparisons or attacks on how good or bad your parent isn’t/is.” She says that instead, you should focus on your own history and behavior as it relates to your decision-making skills, rule following, trustworthiness, and maturity level. “Make your best case for why you should be allowed to do this, based on how well your parent can trust your readiness for it,” she says. If your parent comes back with a hard no, respectfully tell him how you feel about his decision and comply, even though you’re unhappy with the decision, she says. “This will offer additional evidence of maturity that your parent will take into consideration the next time you come to him for permission to do something he may have concerns about.”
“I hate you”
Hate is a strong word. You may be upset with your mother for bailing on babysitting the grandkids when you had planned a date night with your husband. But watch what you say. “What if these were the last three words you said to your mother?” says Kristie Overstreet, a licensed professional clinical counselor and author of Fix Yourself First: 25 Tips to Stop Ruining Your Relationship. “If something tragic happened and this was your last statement to her, you’d have a difficult time healing.”
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Here, you’re telling your parents that what they’re saying isn’t important and doesn’t matter. You know that you’ve lost the argument and the point has been decided, so, you’re trying, weakly, to save face. “You just want to make them mad and retaliate someway, somehow,” says Gilda Carle, PhD, relationship expert and author of Ask for What You Want AND GET IT. You’re saying that they can talk, but you aren’t listening. It’s better to speak respectfully without being rude. Be clear about what you think, feel and want. “Everyone disagrees with someone,” says Carle. “It’s never about the argument itself. It’s about how you peacefully disagree with others and continue relationships with them.” She suggests that you say instead, “I don’t see this as you do.”
Your mom just won’t stop going on and on about how Sarah’s husband is a doctor and she lives in an affluent area. You just can’t take it anymore and shout “Shut up!” It’s not surprising that you’re upset. “Your mom just hasn’t said the actual words, ‘And why don’t you have a doctor-husband, too?’” says Carle. Using a tone that’s friendly and respectful makes it more likely parents will listen and take what you say seriously. It also makes it more likely that they’ll talk to you in the same way. “Smile and calmly remind your mom that doctors are under constant stress and work long hours,” says Carle. “Then laugh and take your mom’s comments lightly. Her methods may stink but her heart swells with love for you.”
“Call Mom and see if it’s okay”
Dad can make family-related decisions himself. “Having parents means sometimes your father will call the shots, and other times your mother will take the reins,” says Spira. “Dividing responsibilities doesn’t always require a check-in for busy parents.” If he wants to call your mom/his wife about what brand of bread to get at the supermarket, he’ll do so. Just don’t make him feel like he has to run every little thing past her. Let your dad take charge when he offers to do so. It shows you respect him as a parent and will take the pressure off your mom, says Spira. On the other hand, here’s why you should call your mom more often.
“I can do whatever I want”
You feel out of control and helpless. You want to throw a pool party but they just won’t have it. You have to be as clear as you can about what you think, feel, and want, giving details to help your parents understand your situation. They can listen better or be more helpful if they understand what’s really going on. “Tell them, ‘Here is what I want to do and why,’” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist, and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together. She says you can make a presentation, like you’re selling something in a business deal or presenting a project at school. “Don’t whine, act resentful, or be angry,” she says. “Have confidence in what you want to do and why it makes sense, and tell them that. If they don’t think what you want to do is safe or they worry you’ll get hurt or rejected, they’ll say no. Act grown up, answering their questions clearly and calmly, she says. “You’ll probably get a yes,” she says.
“You don’t love me”
You want to go out with your friends but your mom won’t let you. You’re using guilt to manipulate your parents. “Don’t accuse her of not loving you, you know she does,” says Tessina. “Loving you is not the same as letting you have whatever you want.” If you have a disagreement, try to see your parents’ point of view. If you can, say so. Telling parents you understand their views and feelings helps them be willing to see yours, too. “Calmly, with no whining or anger, say ‘Mom, my friends (name names) are going out to (Jen’s house, the movies, play video games, the ball game, hang out, etc.) and I want to go with them,’” says Tessina. Give details about what you’re doing and what will happen, she says. “If you ask her permission, she will be a lot more likely to say yes.” Want to say something nice to mom or dad? Try one of these best compliments you can give a parent.