The Power of Your Words (#8 Small Talk 2018)

Flexible minds


flexible minds of young children photo credit: GoFoto Lifestyle Newborn Photography

Stop! Think about the world as your toddler sees it! Everything your little one sees for the first time from when he or she was born is new, exciting and possibly a bit scary. Parents are the first in line to demonstrate to their little ones as to how they should react to others and the environment around them. The brain of a small child is very flexible – this is refered to as “neuroplasticity” by the experts and  explains why children can learn languages faster than adults as well as a child’s remarkable adaptability to different circumstances. As your child becomes older, the “neuroplasticity” of the brain decreases and that is why it is so important to teach the correct lessons in childhood – these learnt lessons will shape the future adult that your child will become.

Your words ARE powerful tools shaping a future adult! This is a huge responsibility for you if you are a parent or if you are intending to become one sometime in the future. It’s important to remember that whatever words you chose to use with your child will have a considerable influence for the rest of his or her life.

With this in mind here are 5 phrases that you are advised to avoid using with your child:

1: “You’re so….”

This one actually has your child believing that they are so “lazy”, or “mean” or “clumsy”….whatever you have added onto the “You’re so…..” Rather than label your child as being lazy, clumsy or mean you should rather comment on the specific behaviour which has led to you saying “you’re so…”.

2: “I’m busy, leave me alone”

Children of all ages are always on the move and life can get hectic for parents who do need time alone to recharge. But if you are continuously telling your child that you are busy they will pick up that you never have time for them (as you are always busy) and they will be less likely to turn to you in the future. As they grow older they begin to think that there is no point in trying to talk to you (Suzette Haden Elgin) as you are always “too busy” to be bothered to listen. When being pestered by your child when you have something you desperately want to finish, it would be better to say “Mommy has to finish this one thing, so I need you to play on your own just for a little bit. As soon as I have finished we will go to the park…or play in the sandpit.” (or whatever your child wants you for!)

3: “Good Job!”

This is an American phrase, often used, and it seems to have crept over into our South African society! You may wonder how such a positive phrase could possibly be bad. According to a social psychologist, Dr Susan Newman, occasional “Good Job” is okay. It is when the phrase is overused that the child begins to tune it out and only value the praise given rather than gain satisfaction from having completed some task that led to you saying “Good Job!” So it is best to go easy on phrases like “good job, smart boy/girl, etc. One should rather focus on what your child has accomplished – such as “wow, look what a great castle you have built from your Lego”.

4: “Stop Crying

stop crying photo credit: GoFoto Lifestyle Newborn Photography

I vividly remember my mom using this one with me. My sister used to tease me mercilessly and as I was younger there was nothing I could do to retaliate other than to burst into tears! The “stop crying” from my mom only made things worse for me. Luckily, my dad took me on his knee (I was about  3 years old at the time) and told me that crying only made my sister happier and what I should do was to pretend that I hadn’t even heard her or if she took a toy away from me I should just pretend not to care. Well, that definitely turned things around for me as after a while my sister seemed to lose interest in teasing me as she got no reaction from me!

In the above story my parents at least knew why I was crying. But sometimes it can seem that your little one is crying for no reason and this can be very frustrating for a parent and it is then natural to say “stop crying” (maybe my mom wasn’t aware that my sister was teasing me!). Toddlers don’t have an extensive vocabulary yet and they may be crying because they cant verbalise what has made them cry. But they are feeling sad about something and if you just dismiss their feeling with a “for goodness sake, stop crying now” you are sending a message that their emotion means nothing to you. Instead, you could pick your child up or sit with him or her and tell them you know they are sad and that makes them cry (or scared- if you think they are) and just reassure them that you are there for them, and you always will be, until they feel better.

5: “Wait until Daddy gets home!”

Sometimes as a parent our patience wears thin and we tend to bring out the big guns to get our child to co-operate. But by using the phrase “wait until daddy/mommy gets home” the message you are giving your little one is that YOU cannot control their behaviour (James Lehman) At the same time you are portraying your partner as the “bad cop” who will mete out the punishment. This is obviously not fair on your partner who shouldn’t have to deal with some situation which arose when he/she wasn’t even there!

My father’s mother always seemed to want to get me in trouble with my dad. Whenever I did something that didn’t suit her sensibilities, she would threaten me with “wait until your dad gets home”. And I hated her for saying that! To make it worse, she really did tell tales when my father returned from work. To this day, this is what I remember her for (and it is not a fond memory!).

Final thoughts

A parent’s words have great power and leave a lasting impression on how our children view the world. Most times we don’t mean to be so negative in what we say to our kids and its okay if it’s only every now and then that we slip up as making one mistake doesn’t mean your child will be ruined. It is only if you catch yourself using these phrases more often than not, that you should press the pause button and re-evaluate yourself and how you speak to your child. After all, you only want the best for your little one and you certainly don’t mean to set them up for failure in their adulthood!

I’d love to know your thoughts on the power of words and any other words you feel would make a lasting impression on your child! Drop me a line either in the comment box below this blog or email me directly at

Yours in lifestyle newborn photography



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *