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New Study Reveals Top Negative Words Parents Use To Kids

It seems like Today’s parents are inundated with a new “do” or “don’t” for raising healthy, happy children every hour. The expectations and standards set for today’s parents are stricter and criticized than any other generation to date, including the way we talk to our kids.

While there are some less impactful parenting choices to make such as dinner menus and sports sign-ups, the language and specific words parents use with their kids are some of the more lasting and influential.

According to a new study, there are some specific negative words parents use with their kids that can lead to lasting effects on both kids and parents.

Online language learning marketplace, Preply, surveyed over 1,400 parents across the U.S. to determine how they use language with their children.

The results spoke volumes not only about how much most parents have in common, but how much today’s parents are working to make lasting changes in the way they parent compared to their upbringings.

The study revealed the top negative words used by parents. The list ranked as follows:

  1. Naughty
  2. Spoiled
  3. Lazy
  4. Selfish
  5. Bad
  6. Liar
  7. Stupid

Many parents acknowledge using negative words with their children with 1 in 4 parents admitting to making their child feel selfish or bad, and nearly 1 in 5 have caused their child to think of themselves as a liar.

Even so, the study found that 20% express remorse over the negative words they’ve used with their children, and 1 in 12 regret cursing in their presence. Specifically, 3 in 10 parents regret the language used when discouraging certain behaviors, indicating a reflection on the impact of their words.

80 percent of parents surveyed said that they have never used any type of negative language with their children that they regret though almost 90% admitted to making threats to their kids when they were getting in trouble.

“The words we use on a daily basis influence the way we perceive ourselves, others, and the world around us. When directed towards others, negative language can harm relationships, lower self-esteem, and lead to a dispirited perspective toward life,” language expert Sylvia Johnson told Preply, encouraging parents “to be conscious about the language we use, especially when dealing with sensitive beings like children.”

Johnson goes on to say, “Gently given correctives or words of encouragement can stoke a child’s self-confidence, promote healthy self-esteem, spark curiosity, and foster resilience. By contrast, harsh words, criticisms, or constantly highlighting their mistakes can induce fear of failure, cultivate self-doubt, or stagnate their creativity and eagerness to learn.”

Though parents are still guilty of using negative words from time to time, most are working to make the change to be more conscious of what they say to their kids. This type of conscious parenting could be due to their own childhoods where this type of reflecting thinking was non-existent.

In fact, 61% of Americans wish their own parents had used language in different ways with them. This sentiment is especially strong among Gen Zers and millennials, who often view other generations’ parenting styles as overly negative.

Many seem to be working to break that cycle. A significant 48% of parents with daughters are careful with terms like “pretty” and “beautiful” to avoid creating an undue focus on physical appearance.

Similarly, 38% of parents with sons are mindful about using words like “strong” and “brave.” They believe avoiding these words prevents the reinforcement of stereotypes about toughness.

Additionally, nearly 1 in 4 American parents report that their parenting style vastly differs from that of their own parents.

Of American parents surveyed a majority 45.5% described their parenting style as lighthouse parenting with attachment parenting (13%), and gentle parenting (12.9%). Conversely, tiger, snowplow, and free-range parenting are less favored.

“Language and communication styles are a mirror for changes in society. As a linguist and a parent to three girls, I see that younger generations have been brought up communicating in an environment that values emotional intelligence, empathy, and mutual respect. The shift towards gentle parenting is a reflection of these evolving cultural norms, where language is used as a tool for understanding and guiding rather than commanding,” Johnson, tells Scary Mommy.

As for which parenting style is the “best,” that’s still a mystery. However, there is data to back up that a more nurturing and understanding approach when raising kids can help build the foundation for a more independent and well-adjusted child.

While science hasn’t determined a single ‘best’ parenting style as family dynamics and cultural contexts vary widely, research does consistently underscore the importance of a nurturing, communicative approach. This style balances setting clear boundaries with promoting independence and self-expression,” Johnson explains.

“As parents, and I speak for myself here, we should strive for a style that is responsive, warm, understanding, yet also firm, consistent, and fair. I suggest aiming to create an environment where open communication thrives which leads to strong parent-child relationships and promotes a child’s emotional, social, and cognitive development.”

These new trends in language and parenting are definitely worth taking note of. Johnson sees these changes as a positive move forward in society.

“Language constantly evolves, and greater awareness of how we use it, especially with our children, reflects growth. It suggests a move towards a more understanding and inclusive society. It’s a hopeful sign for the future,” she says.

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