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Parental Phrases and Sayings

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The eldest of six, father to three boys and grandfather to three, and subjected to half-baked parental instructions throughout childhood.


Parents Participating in Life Lessons on Tenacity and Perseverance

All children benefit from mum and dads advice, and when growing up, the importance of understanding that nothing comes free of effort and resilience is key to getting on in life.

These valuable sayings and snippets of wisdom sometimes seem to pour from mum and dads lips all too easily for the young child. After repeated exclamations aimed at stirring the child into action, they can feel as if there are being bombarded with oversimplified statements of the obvious and at times as if they are just not up to the task.

A Parental Rebuff

Have you ever noticed how the tone and pointedness of the parental rebuff changes as you progress through childhood? It starts gently. As the year's progress, the interventions intensify and sometimes become more complicated to decipher. A teenager has to navigate this sea of criticism, sarcasm, and well-intentioned life-lessons that seem to surround mum and dads statements of frustration and displeasure at the growing child's behaviour.

To the toddler:

  • "Granny wouldn't like it," and "mum said," or "dad said."

One of my favourites. A cop-out if ever I heard it! It's like saying, "I'm not the bad parent here; if it was just me, you could get away with it."

To the pre-teen:

  • "I'm going to count to three!"

How many times have you said this? And how many times have you got to three and a child's behaviour didn't change? So you repeat it all over again and again.

To the teenager:

  • "Because I said so!" And "Do as I say, not as I do."

Around this age, young teens start to appreciate that reasoning their way out of a predicament or hoping to engage in grown-up conversation with mum and dad is not always a viable option.


Comforting Words From Mum and Dad?

All children get themselves into scrapes, tripping, falling off bicycles, out of trees, and let's face it; kid's of all ages are accidents waiting to happen. How comforting it is to hear mum and dad's calming tones utter these healing tomes as you drip blood from the gash on your knee.

To the toddler:

  • "There, there, let mum kiss it better."

This saying is often an ill-fated and futile attempt by the parent to stem the tears. Kids need to beware; this soft-touch approach will morph into a much more direct and often a more sarcastic approach as you grow older.

To the pre-teen:

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  • "Don't be a cry-baby." And "Stop bleeding everywhere!" Or "You'll live."

The message received here is clear. Mum and dad believe the carpet to be more important than your pain. It can feel like bad things are allowed to happen and that as long as you aren't going to die from your wounds—then it's okay to suffer without them being empathetic.

To the teenager:

  • "What's up? Got broken legs?"

It is a phrase used in many teenage contexts, underplaying the bumps and scrapes you receive, informing you that they think you are lazy, telling you to fetch and carry your stuff—so unfair!

Sulking—a Parents Nightmare

Sulking is an art form perfected by the young. But parents resent it, and they let the child know.

To the toddler:

  • "If you are not careful, your face will get stuck like that."

This statement is a typical adults response to the disapproving frown that descends upon an otherwise angelic face whenever they feel aggrieved.

To the pre-teen:

  • "I'm not asking you to like it!" And "wipe that look off your face."

To the teenager:

  • "Don't just stand there with your bare face hanging out. Do something."


  • "You know you're adopted, right?"

It is not enough to be told by mum or dad that they dislike your behaviour; they have to introduce the concept that you may not be directly related.


The Odd Swear Word

We have all been there. Kids mixing with kids inevitably means that they pick up a few choice words, often repeating them without understanding their meaning. In reality, this is an easy way for the parent to scold the child without explaining what the word means.

To the toddler:

  • "Granny wouldn't like it."

Here's the time to play the granny card again.

To the pre-teen:

  • "Wash your language." And "go wash your mouth out with soap and water."

To the teenager:

  • "I've told you before—stop the needless bl**dy swearing. I don't know where you get this c**p from!"

Learning the value of patience

To the toddler:

  • "One day you will thank me."

To the pre-teen:

  • "Maybe when you are older."

Hands up all those who ever actually got whatever it was they asked for after hearing this from their parents—be honest. Kids soon learn this expression means not ever!

To the teenager:

  • "When you have kid's, you'll understand."

Children Who Overstep the Mark

Trouble is looming if you hear these:

  • "Not in my house, you won't."
  • "And who's the head of the family?"
  • "Am I talking to a brick wall?"
  • "I'm not asking; I'm telling."
  • "And who is it that pays the bills?"

Mischievous Hands.

To the toddler:

  • "Look with your eyes, not your hands." And "look. Don't touch."

What is it with toddlers? Its as if their eyes and those sticky fingers are somehow conjoined.

To the pre-teen:

  • "Hold your horses."

Grown-up speak for "slow down, stop showing so much enthusiasm," and "for goodness sake, I can't stand this constant display of energy—just tone it down, my head hurts."

To the teenager:

  • "You're big enough and ugly enough to know better than to touch that."

It seems that teenagers rarely catch a break when being reminded not to touch stuff that's delicate or valuable. Its never enough to just be reminded politely. It's as if mum and dad think it's cool to come over all smart and sassy like they imagine their teenager to be.

While we are on the subject of eyes—perhaps the biggest weapon against mam and dad that a toddler possesses and wields with uncanny accuracy are their eyes. In my experience, something that toddlers and puppies have in common.

To the toddler:

  • "Please don't give me those puppy eyes."

To plead with your child that they should use the most potent weapon in their armory.

To the pre-teen:

  • "Don't look at me with those eyes."

I invite any pre-teen to understand the message here. I only ever remember thinking how else am I supposed to look at you—they are the only eyes I have.

To the teenager:

  • "Don't look at me like that! You forget, I brought you into the world—I own you!"

Dads Special Messages and Sayings: But Never Tell Your Mother

  • "Don't tell your mother."

Be careful, a phrase that may get you into more trouble than it's worth.

  • "I don't want to get yelled at by your mother."

Often said in whispered tones, this is dad admitting that he is not the alpha in this household.

  • "Son, don't ever get married."

Not a mum-pleasing statement. Dads on dangerous ground here.

  • "Are you looking for mum? Have you checked the roof?"

Another swipe at mum. Dad is either very brave—or very foolish.

  • "Be good. If not, be careful."

I have always taken mixed messages from this piece of perceived wisdom. Mum had definite views on its meaning as it was always robustly rebuffed.

  • "Beat the crap out of them." And "give them a knuckle sandwich."

A wholly inappropriate ditty to pass onto a child trying to explain to dad that his "friends" are taking the mickey. Another dad special—always a macho response, but usually said out of mum's hearing.


This Is Going to Hurt

To the toddler:

  • "This is for your own good."

Experience tells me that children won't thank you in later life. All they hear is a convoluted way of saying no.

To the pre-teen:

  • "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you."

Not true. Hide.

  • "You're cruising for a bruising."

To be warned, that nice dad is about to turn bad dad.

To the teenager:

  • But oh-no! You know better!

To be rebuffed. Typically said with some degree of sarcasm and heartfelt meaning.


The New Teenager: A Parents Nightmare Scenario

The transition of your child into a teenager can be the stuff of nightmares.

Many parents dread the thought that their sweet-natured child may transform into a raging, hormone-driven monster?

  • Will petulance and unruliness reign?
  • Will your home descend into a caldron of immature swearing and calamity?

Those parental sayings and lessons are going to be needed now, more than ever.

The Teenager Is Released on Their Family

Teenage Life Lessons

Teenagers come in for a great deal of helpful advice from mum and dad. Its as if parents see their children's adult years approaching fast and try to cram as much common sense and learning into their teenagers as they can.

  • "You can get away with being stupid, but being stupid and lazy ain't going to work."

Wow—this smarts. At face value, a logical and accurate retort to doing something daft. But that's what teenagers do sometimes (okay, maybe I did it a little too often), but still.

  • "Do it right, or do it again."

Not what an older child wants to hear. It can be hard enough to do something new and strange. Nothing worse than feeling like you've created something amazing, or put great effort into a task, just to be told, "do it right, or do it again."

  • "Those of you who are standing around saying it cannot be done are bothering those of us who are getting it done."

Okay—so I'm in the way. My contribution is not needed is what I heard when told this. Of course, this was not the message you were supposed to take from this piece of sage advice.

  • "Keep it simple."

This advice worked for me. Straightforward and to the point. No blame and no repercussions.

  • "Find yourself a sugar daddy."

Parents don't mean this literally—do they? What's mum and dad actually saying here? Surely not that their daughters only prospects are to latch onto a rich old bloke?

  • "Don't get left holding the baby."

It is a cautious tale of not being undermined or left to carry the can for something others have walked away from.

The Child Is Not to Blame: It's in Their Genes

  • "Stupid runs in the family."
  • "Like father, like son."
  • "He's his father's son."


Where would we all be without mum and dad's teachings and guidance? Decades of parenting culminating in each of us heading off to face the world and its many challenges.

We may look back with some affection at the family catchphrases that guided us, and more often than not, we find ourselves relying on these homespun ditties when we take up parental responsibilities of our own.

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