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A psychotherapist shares the 5 phrases parents should never say to their kids—and what to use instead

Photo: Getty / Ippei Naoi

As parents, what we do around our children can leave a lasting impact, but the things we say to them matters just as much.

The phrases we use when speaking to our kids (or even just around them) not only reflect our beliefs about the world, but they also influence the beliefs they develop.

In my book, "13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do," I explain how to give up common unhealthy habits that rob kids of developing the mental strength they need to reach their greatest potential. And many of those habits involve changing your language.

Although some of the phrases you're used to saying regularly might seem harmless, they can cause your kids to grow up with a victim mentality — or to believe that they can't succeed.

Here are five toxic phrases parents should strip from their vocabulary:

1. "We'll never afford that."

If something you really want is out of your price range, don't insist that you can never have it simply because money is holding you back.

Instead, show your kids that you have control over your finances. You could say, for example, "My dream is to buy a big house for us one day. But since we don't have the financial means right now, I'm going to take some online classes so I can grow my skills at work and get a raise."

Or, if your kid really wants to go to Disney World, tell them: "We can't afford the tickets because it's not in our budget this year." Then, consider setting them up with an allowance jar so they can start saving for a trip to the theme park.

When you help your kids cultivate smart financial habits, they'll grow up knowing that if they want something they can't afford, it's just a matter of adjusting priorities.

2. "You make me so mad."

As parents, it's important to stay calm and resist the urge to blame our kids — or anyone else, really — for our emotions.

Instead of acting out of rage over something your kid did, a healthier response would be, "I don't like it when you do that," and then explain why. It's important for kids to understand how their behavior can affect others. This will encourage them to them to be more aware of other people's feelings, instead of just their own.

Also, by staying calm, you're teaching your kid that we all have the ability to control our own feelings, and that it's up to us to manage them in a healthy way. After all, you wouldn't want them to grow up thinking it's okay to blame others for the way they feel.

Of course, we're all human — and there may be times when we can't help but lose our cool. If this happens and you end up saying something you regret, start with an apology: "I'm sorry for losing my temper. Next time, I'll take a moment to calm myself down."

3. "I hate my job."

Let's say you had an exhausting day at work and you just want to go home and vent to your partner. It might seem harmless because you weren't even speaking directly to them, but keep in mind that kids do pick up on this messaging.

In fact, studies have found that our attitudes about life have a big influence in determining our children's success, especially when it comes to academic achievement.

Furthermore, complaining about your job around your kids teaches them that work isn't fun. As a result, they may grow up believing that adulthood is about spending half of your waking hours in complete misery.

The better way to handle it? Make it clear that you have career choices and talk about the things you're doing to make your work life better.

4. "I have to go to the store."

Whenever you say that you have to do something, whether it's running an errand or going to dinner at Grandma's house, you imply that you're being forced to do things you don't want to do.

Instead, show your kids that you're in control of your own time: It's up to you to decide what you're going to do, as well as when and how you're going to do it.

Kids who grow up to be successful understand that life is all about the choices they make. You can teach them this important lesson by saying something like, "I don't feel like grocery shopping today, but I want to make sure we have food in the fridge for the week," or "I'm tired, but we told Grandma we'd go to her house. And I want to make sure I keep my word."

Of course, there will always be something that they don't want to do, but absolutely should do, such as going to bed at a reasonable time or eating their veggies. In these situations, it's helpful to explain why they're being asked to do it. When kids understand the importance of a task, they'll be more likely to comply.

5. "Everything will be okay."

If your kid didn't get picked as a starting player for their sports team, convincing them that everything will always turn out well won't prepare them for the future.

Rather than telling them that there's always a happy ending, teach them that they're strong enough to handle life's inevitable curveballs.

Maybe your kid just needs to put in more practice time. If that's the case, comfort them with a hug and acknowledge their feelings by saying, "I know you really wanted to get picked today, but there will be many more opportunities."

Then, encourage them to keep practicing and try again when they feel ready. By coaching and guiding your kids through tough times, they'll be better equipped to handle things that don't work out fine in the future.

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and instructor at Northeastern University. She is the author of the national best-seller "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do″ and "13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do." In 2015, Amy was named the "self-help guru of the moment" by The Guardian.

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