Phrases that destroy children’s self-esteem

Self-esteem is the opinion that children have of themselves, but how is it formed? Where does it come from? The answer is simple. It comes from the exchanges of affection they have with their close references: mom, dad, family, friends, etc.

Everything you say to your child will influence him. And just as there are words of encouragement that comfort, there are also phrases that destroy that self-worth.

According to the book, Consejos de oro para mejorar la autoestima en los niños (Golden Tips for Improving Self-Esteem in Children), by Más Editores, self-esteem is a self-assessment that entails, on the one hand, a learned judgment (it is not inherent to the child, it is picked up from somewhere) and on the other, it implies a strong negative or positive feeling.

“High self-esteem is related to positive feelings such as pleasure, confidence, joy, enthusiasm, and interest. Negative self-esteem involves pain, sadness, inertia, guilt, shame or feeling empty”, says the book.

The influence of parents on children

There is a close relationship between parents and children’s self-esteem. “In the first years of life, information about oneself is received almost exclusively from parents. Over the years, other significant figures are incorporated, such as teachers, schoolmates and friends”, explain Jael Vargas and Laura Oros in their research Parentalidad y autoestima en hijos (Parenting and Self-esteem in children).

The more positive the family relationship is, the higher the children’s self-esteem tends to be. On the contrary, negative experiences at home contribute to an inadequate self-definition.

It is not only the physical mistreat

It is not only the physical mistreat, abuse or abandonment, but also the psychological one, the phrases that you say over and over again to the children, until they believe them.

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10 types of phrases that destroy children’s self-esteem

Parents often repeat these words without being aware of the damage they can cause to their children.

But the worst thing is that there is a risk that they become core beliefs that are “tattooed” in the mind. In the long run, the child (and the adult he becomes) clings to the destructive idea, despite evidence to the contrary.

1. Phrases that promote disability

  • You can’t do anything right.
  • I don’t know when you’re going to learn.
  • You suck.
  • I’d better do it, I am already desperated.

The core belief that is taught is ineptitude.

The child thinks it so strongly that he acts accordingly. Instead of working to increase his ability, it unconsciously tries to show that he really “can’t do anything right”.

Positive Alternative: We all have abilities and limitations. With patience and practice you can do anything. Let’s work together until you achieve it.

2. Phrases that put a label

  • You’re a liar.
  • You are fat.
  • You are a mess.
  • You’re a wimp.

Labels highlight the “negative” characteristics of children and cause them to develop feelings of inferiority, besides generating identity problems.

The core belief that is promoted is that, “You are full of flaws”.

Positive alternative: If what you say does not match what you do, it will be difficult for me to trust your word. /You are normal, with strengths and weaknesses. If you want to change something, I can help you. / It’s okay to cry, it helps you calm down.

3. Phrases that humiliate

  • Shut up, don’t talk nonsense.
  • Are you a fool or just pretending to be one?
  • You are old enough to stop wetting the bed.
  • You look ridiculous in that.
  • I’m going to spank you in front of your friends.
  • You embarrass me.

When the kid’s opinion is belittled, he is denigrated, his difficulty is evidenced or he is even exposed in public, we are talking about humiliation. The psychological effects of shame and humiliation include decreased self-esteem and in his sense of dignity.

Make corrections in private, never in front of other children or adults.

Positive alternative: I’ll explain it better, don’t worry. / It is not easy to learn to use the bathroom, sometimes accidents happen. You will achieve. / Do you feel comfortable with what you are wearing? Ok! It is up to you.

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4. Phrases that cause guilt

  • You are making me sick.
  • Do you see the trouble you are making?
  • You’re going to drive me crazy.
  • If you leave, I will be very sad.
  • I´ll have a heart attack because of you.

This is, plain and simple, blackmailing.

Blaming children for situations beyond their control makes them believe that they are responsible, when you know very well that it is a lie. Passing blame on them can cause great anxiety.

Positive alternative: Let’s both calm down. / Adult problems are not your fault. /When you’re not here I miss you, but I know you’ll be fine. If you have any concerns, call me, you can trust me.

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5. Phrases that condition love

  • Not now, I’m busy.
  • Move away, get off my back.
  • Go away, I don’t want to see you.
  • Go away, I don’t love you anymore.

If you reject your child when he wants to express his affection, you are sending him a very destructive message: he does not deserve to be loved. He will not feel safe, loved and accepted.

The consequence of this idea will affect their relationships in the future.

Positive alternative: You are the most important thing to me, but right now I have to solve something urgent. Give me a few minutes and I’m with you. / I love you, you can be sure of that.

6. Phrases that compare the child

  • Why aren’t you as smart as my friend’s son?
  • At your age, your sibling was doing much better.
  • I wish you were like your cousin.
  • Learn how John Doe does.

Through comparisons only jealousy, resentment and rivalry are created. The child perceives the other as an unattainable model and will have the belief that he must be different to be loved.

Problems of identity and acceptance are generated. He will not know who he is and will try to imitate others.

Positive alternative: You’re good, we’re going to keep pushing. I will help you. / It’s not a competition, everyone has his place.

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7. Phrases that threaten

  • If you don’t do this, I’m going to punish you.
  • You’d better come here immediately.
  • I’m going to leave you alone, I’ve had enough.
  • If you misbehave, Santa will not bring any presents to you.
Threats are based on fear and erode children’s trust in their parents. We are teaching them that it is good to use intimidation to get things.

Furthermore, if that threat is not followed through, we lose credibility and send the signal that their actions are inconsequential.

When the threat is abandonment (leaving kids alone) feelings of dependency are generated.

Positive alternative: Every act has a consequence, if you do not fulfill your responsibility, you will have to assume it (fulfill that consequence).

8. Phrases that seek perfection.

  • A B is not a good grade, it means you didn’t study enough.
  • Grades below A are not worth it.
  • You should always get straight As.

It is good to instill discipline and effort, but not to the point of demanding perfection. The reason? You create high expectations that are difficult to achieve, as well as chronic dissatisfaction.

You teach them that they must judge themselves permanently.

In the future they will give a lot of thought to the possible mistakes they make, no matter how small. They will have a continual need for recognition, a low tolerance for change, a need for control, and difficulty at making decisions.

Positive alternative: You tried very hard and that’s what’s important! / If you can give more, go ahead.

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9. Phrases that predict failure

  • You are lazy, so you will achieve nothing in life.
  • You’ll never succeed.
  • You will always be a failure.
  • If you don’t study, you will be an ignorant.

The intention of the parents is that the children realize that they will regret it if they do not get good grades or make the wrong decisions.

However, far from leading to positive reactions, it causes frustration, disinterest and anger, because they think that their parents do not believe in them.

Positive alternative: I know you can do better / People who study have more tools to be successful. You have a lot of capacity.

10. Phrases of hate or verbal aggression

  • Despicable you.
  • Son of a…
  • I hate you.
  • I wish you had never been born.
  • I’m sick of you.
  • You are a nuisance.

The verbal abuse that some parents use in the upbringing of their children is the worst of all. It generates emotional and psychological damage imperceptible to the eye, but with deep traces.

With these harsh words, the child is stripped of self-confidence, courage and ability to react.

The insults are so hurtful that they paralyze many times throughout life.

Positive alternative: I love you.


You know it, the love we feel for our children is that kind of love that comes from the depths of our guts and seeks the best for them.

Many times we make the mistake of saying one of these phrases due to ignorance, trying to forge the character of children or simply because of stress. Do not make mistakes.

Words hurt and very deeply. Before saying something you will regret, breathe, calm down and try to find a way to better explain what you want without damaging your children’s self-esteem.

Translated by: Ligia M. Oliver Manrique de Lara

Spanish version: Here

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