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Words Matter: 18 Verbal Pitfalls That Can Harm Children’s Self-Worth

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The way we communicate with our children has the potential to leave lasting imprints on their self-esteem, confidence, and mental well-being. Harsh words and phrases can inflict emotional wounds as deep as physical injuries. As individuals reflect on the words they encountered during their childhood, it becomes clear that certain expressions hold the power to shape lives in profoundly impactful ways, emphasizing the importance of making thoughtful word choices when interacting with young minds.

1. Holding Adoption Over Their Head When Misbehaving

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Someone shares a sad story of an adopted girl. “I went out a couple of times with a girl who was adopted while we were both in high school. One time I was over the house, she and her mom got into an argument, and her mom yelled out something along the lines of “Now I know why your parents put you up for adoption.”

Never in my life have I heard anything half as cruel.” Those are some deep-cutting words.

2. Wishing They Were Different

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Another adopted child shares, “I got “I wish we had adopted a girl.” From my dad when I was 16. That was over 3 decades ago and still stings.” Ouch.

3. Saying I Hate You

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Parents should be the few people in a child’s life that loves them unconditionally. Hating them instead goes against the nature of family and makes us wonder why some people have kids. Someone shares, “My mom once told me ” I hate you so much, it would have been better for me to throw you into a lake and let you drown when you were a newborn”.” And sadly others had similar experiences.

4. Counting Down the Days to 18

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“My parents always knew exactly how long it was until my 18th birthday, and would remind me that I’d be on my own when it arrived. It was the sword of Damocles hanging over my head, my whole childhood. I knew in my bones that I was not wanted or welcome, and that they looked forward to being free of me, ” someone shares.

This again had many people wondering what’s the point of being a parent? Enjoying all those sweet (and tough) moments is part of the journey.

5. You’re Too Expensive

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Another man shares his story of his dad, who couldn’t wait to kick his boys out the door too. His reason was that he hated spending money on them. “It was clear from a young age my brothers and I were unwanted expenses that cut into his extreme hoarding of money. A level of frugal beyond someone on welfare.” Feeling like you’re not worth the money? Talk about a self-esteem crusher.

6. Blaming Kids for a Parent’s Problems

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Blaming kids for personal problems and events hangs a giant gray cloud over their heads. Someone shares they were told often, “It’s your fault my life is so messed up.” How sad.

7. Saying They’re The Reason Life is Hard

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Another woman shares a common phrase she heard, “You’re the reason I had to move away from my family.” Again, that kind of baggage on a child is just unnecessary.

8. Why Can’t You Be Different

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This is, unfortunately, a common scenario where parents wish their children were different and lived up to their ridiculous expectations. Someone shares their dad saying, “I wanted a child who is naturally athletic and active. Not you!”

9. My Life Would Be So Different

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Another user shares, “My mother told me almost every day that I was the reason she couldn’t go to college and become a lawyer.” A few people, namely other lawyers, said her mom actually dodged a bullet for a crappy career choice and that she should have been thanking her daughter rather than making her feel guilty..

10. We’re Divorcing Because of You

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Yet another thing to blame kids for when they should never be involved is divorce. A dad shares that someone told his child that it’s her fault he divorced his wife, which made him furious- because, of course, it has nothing to do with her. What a terrible thing for a kid to think.

11. Your Efforts Aren’t Enough

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Many people recall their parents reprimanding them for not doing better. A? No good enough, next time A+. 97%? Why not 100%? Kids thrive from occasional praise and being constantly told to do better can make them workaholics or over achievers later in life.

12. Why Can’t You Change?

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Someone writes a common question she was asked, “Why can’t you be like (insert name of cousin/neighbor/classmate/any random human being)?”

13. Constant Criticism

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A grandma shares a story of her granddaughter (who she had custody of) getting a new haircut that she was over the moon about. When she got to excitedly show her mom, her mom didn’t even attempt to fake a response and flat out told her she hated it, crushing the poor girl’s joy. At moments like these, for the child’s sake- isn’t it better to be happy for them- even if we don’t particularly like their choice? Let children express themselves and feel proud!

14. Abusive Comments

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Many users recall angry yelling and threats of how they planned to harm their child. Whether they meant it or not, the mental abuse is not okay and leaves a scar on children dealing with it.

All in all, thank goodness for adoptive families, supportive adults, and perseverance that helped these kids become functioning adults in some form or capacity. It seems that many of these adults learned from their own parents what NOT to do and have gone on to be great parents. Way to break the cycle!

15. Body Image Comments

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The last thing a child needs is to be constantly told that they’re “too fat”, “too skinny”- or any other comments about their appearance. Celebrate their unique bodies and nurture a sense of self-love.

16. You’re Ugly

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and telling a child they must conform to certain standard to be considered beautiful is ridiculous. One user share that her grandma used to tell her she was frumpy and that she’d never get a man that way.

17. Leaving

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Sometimes actions speak louder than words. Sadly, a few users shared the same experience- their parents leaving them one day out of the blue for a “different life.” Talk about a traumatizing way to give that message to a child that they don’t matter. So sad.

18. Wishing They Never Existed

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While many of the words make a child feel like their parents don’t want them, some parents heartbreakingly tell their kids they don’t want them. One user sadly shares she heard her mom praying that she would just go away. How traumatic.


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