Five more things you should avoid saying to your kids.
6. "We can't afford that."
It's easy to use this default response when your child begs you for the latest toy. But doing so sends the message that you're not in control of your finances, which can be scary for kids, says Jayne Pearl, the author of Kids and Money. Grade-schoolers may also call you on this claim if you turn around and make an expensive household purchase. Choose an alternative way to convey the same idea, such as, "We're not going to buy that because we're saving our money for more important things." If she insists on discussing it further, you have a perfect window to start a conversation about how to budget and manage money.
7. "Don't talk to strangers."
This is a tough concept for a young child to grasp. Even if a person is unfamiliar, she may not think of him as a stranger if he's nice to her. Plus, kids may take this rule the wrong way and resist the help of police officers or firefighters whom they don't know, says Nancy McBride, executive director for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Florida Regional Office, in Lake Park. Instead of warning her about strangers, bring up scenarios ("What would you do if a man you don't know offers you candy and a ride home?"), have her explain what she'd do, then guide her to the proper course of action. Since the vast majority of child-abduction cases involve someone a kid already knows, you might also adopt McBride's favorite safety mantra: "If anyone makes you feel sad, scared, or confused, you need to tell me right away."
8. "Be careful."
Saying this while your child is balancing on the monkey bars at the playground actually makes it more likely that he'll fall. "Your words distract him from what he's doing, so he loses focus," says Deborah Carlisle Solomon, author of Baby Knows Best. If you're feeling anxious, move close to spot him in case he takes a tumble, being as still and quiet as you can.
9. "No dessert unless you finish your dinner."
Using this expression increases a child's perceived value of the treat and diminishes his enjoyment of the meal itself -- the opposite of what you want to accomplish, says Parents advisor David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children's Hospital and author of Ending the Food Fight. Tweak your message along these lines: "First we eat our meal and then we have dessert." The wording change, though subtle, has a far more positive impact on your child.
10. "Let me help."
When your child is struggling to build a block tower or finish a puzzle, it's natural to want to give him a hand. Don't. "If you jump in too soon, that can undermine your child's independence because he'll always be looking to others for answers," says Myrna Shure, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia and author of Raising a Thinking Child. Instead, ask guiding questions to help him solve the problem: "Do you think the big piece or the little one should go at the bottom? Why do you think that? Let's give it a try."
Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Parents magazine.