10 Phrases That Undermine Confidence (and What to Say Instead)

10 Phrases That Undermine Confidence (and What to Say Instead)

It seems to me like each of my children get a little more adventurous than the last. Maybe having older siblings does that. They see the things that they can do, and naturally, they want to do them too.

I’m often standing on the sidelines biting my tongue while they physically express their confidence and sense of adventure by scaling tall trees, clambering over big rocks, attempting flips on the trampoline, balancing precariously on logs, and much more, all the while shouting ‘Look at me! I’m doing it! Look what I can do!’

Deep breaths.

This is what children were made for.

That confidence. That feeling of ‘I can do it!!!’ is something we definitely want to nurture.

But sometimes, fear gets in our way. One of the jobs of a parent is to keep our children safe, right?

I often wonder though, safe from what?

10 Phrases That Undermine Confidence (and What to Say Instead)

Physical safety is one thing, but what about keeping their confidence safe? What about keeping safe their sense of adventure? What about protecting their desire to explore? What about their curiosity?

Sometimes, in an effort to protect them physically, we sacrifice all these other things. We limit their choices, for our comfort more than their benefit.

The truth is children need to take risks. They need to play and explore and push themselves and make mistakes and learn what they are capable of. There will be scraped knees along the way, sprained ankles, maybe even a broken bone. They are par for the course. But what we definitely do not want is broken spirits.

We can start by minding our language. So many things said to kids are more impactful than people realise.

10 Phrases That Undermine Confidence (and What to Say Instead)

1. “You’re too little”

Says who? That’s for the person who’s trying to climb to the top of the playground/ dress themselves/ make their own lunch/ jump off the top stair down to the bottom to decide. There’s no need to limit our children like that. How do you know if you can do something until you try?

Instead: Show your confidence in their abilities, say something like “it’s up to you, you can try!”

10 Phrases That Undermine Confidence (and What to Say Instead)

2. “You won’t like that”

Again, says who? People often complain that kids won’t try new things, but they’ve spent so much time telling them what they do and don’t like.

Instead: Say nothing at all.

3. “Ok, but you’ll regret it”

What’s wrong with making mistakes? If they do regret it then they have learned a valuable lesson. They don’t need the added pressure of you saying ‘I told you so’.

Instead: You could say nothing, or simply let them know “I’ll be here if you need me”

10 Phrases That Undermine Confidence (and What to Say Instead)

4. “Well I warned you”

It does not inspire confidence in one’s abilities to have this thrown back in your face when something doesn’t go to plan. Comments like this send the message that adults know better, that children can’t know or trust their own capabilities, and that they cannot make their own decisions. Not helpful messages at all.

Instead: Empathise. “That didn’t turn out how you expected it would. Are you feeling hurt/disappointed/shocked/scared/upset?”

5. “Don’t come crying to me if…”

Do we really want our children to think that they can’t ‘come crying’ to us with anything. I don’t think so. This comment damages connection and trust. Children don’t need to follow your directions in order to be worthy of support. Let’s not hold love hostage in exchange for compliance.

Instead: Don’t threaten at all! Keep quiet, or reassure, ‘I’m right here’.

10 Phrases That Undermine Confidence (and What to Say Instead)

6. “Well you refused my help so you’re on your own”

If you use this phrase then I’m not sure you’re clear on the concept of help. It’s not helpful if it comes with demands and conditions. Are you helping someone to do something they would like to do, or are you trying to control their choices?

Confidence can grow when kids know they have a safe place to land when things don’t go to plan. Be that place.

Instead: Ask what they would like help with and provide it, without expectation.

7. “Be careful”

This phrase is said as a warning, and with the best of intentions, but can definitely convey that you see children as incapable. More on that here.

Instead: Breathe and watch your awesome child learning about their body.

10 Phrases That Undermine Confidence (and What to Say Instead)

8. “Because I said so”

This may come as a surprise, but adults are not the authority on life, and definitely not on other people’s needs. Making decisions for a child, without their consent or input is extremely invalidating and definitely doesn’t inspire confidence in themselves.

Instead: “Let’s work this out together”. “I’d like to hear your thoughts”.

9. “I know what’s best for you”

This is a common belief, but that doesn’t make it accurate. No one knows a person, or their needs, better than themselves. If we want to nurture children’s confidence, then we cannot tell them that we know better what they need than they do.

Instead: Let them know, “Your body, your choice”. Or if you’re genuinely concerned about safety, then just express that and listen to their opinion too.

10. “Good job!”

This one is just totally unnecessary, in any circumstance. When we praise children for something they’ve done we switch the focus from them achieving something for their own intrinsic needs and motivations, to instead making it about how they pleased us. They actually don’t need our praise. Seriously. Praise has been shown to be detrimental. Read more here.

Instead: “You did it!”. “You worked really hard”. Or, just describe what you see.

10 Phrases That Undermine Confidence (and What to Say Instead)

“Living from this place of fear moves us out of the present relationship we’re creating with the children in our lives and propels us into a future where we imagine the worst possible outcomes.” –Teresa Graham Brett

Instead of limiting children because of our fears, we can see them for the capable humans they are. It is our job to deal with our own triggers, and examine our misconceptions about children so that we can move towards a more trusting and connected relationship with them. One that inspires confidence, nurtures curiosity, encourages exploration, and supports adventure.

10 Phrases That Undermine Confidence (and What to Say Instead)

3 thoughts on “10 Phrases That Undermine Confidence (and What to Say Instead)

  1. I have fallen into the “be careful!” too much with my Grandson, he is three and loves trying anything he sees other kids doing. He is reasonably capable, but when he gets high up over my head on a playscape or something, I think “wow if he falls can I catch him?” I try to say “I see you! You are really high!” but my heart is in my throat!

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