4 Things I’ll Never Say to a Kid Again (And Why You Shouldn’t Either)


Whoever first said sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me, needs to endure a verbal beat down on the playground from a few irritable fifth graders.

Words hurt.

As a teacher, I’ve unwittingly said things in the classroom that have done more harm than good. I’ve said all of the phrases on this list more times than I’d care to admit. They seem loving at face value, but can be destructive in the long run.

1. This is easy.

Yikes. Easy for whom? Me? The 2/3 of the class who was at this school last year? The kids who love math?

This sends a mixed message at best. If we believe kids are individuals, then there will be differences in learning. My old superintendent used to say “Every child can learn, but not in the same way and not on the same day.”

The lingering question this leaves is what if it isn’t easy? This is where students start to feel self-doubt and stupidity.

Better to say:

I hope this is do-able for you.

2. You are so smart!

What happens the next time the student isn’t so smart? Were you lying? What is the expiration date on this statement? How often does a student need to live up to this?

A student’s follow up question to this might be what will I be next time I can’t do something? This can make a student feel insecure and feed into a people-pleaser mentality. This can also wreck a student struggling with perfectionism.

Better to say:

Tell me about your work.

3. Great job!

Adults say this so much to kids. What does it even mean? It’s too general and can marginalize the learning process over the end product.

This is another phrase that can feed into a child’s need for approval. A kid could feel like he constantly needs to check in with you to make sure he’s doing a “great job.” Enough of this will diminish confidence and initiative.

Better to say:

It looks like you worked hard on that.

4. You should already know this.

According to whom? The principal? A stuffy administrator in the state capitol? This year’s curriculum map?

This statement can really mess up a kid. The word should is the culprit here. It gives the student the impression that she missed something. Probably something important.

There are so many what ifs when a teacher says this. What if the child was absent during that lesson last year? What if the student had skill gaps and wasn’t ready to learn it when it was presented? What if the kid was spaced out because their dad was terminally ill?

Better to say:

Some of you may know this already. It’s okay if you don’t. I’m here to help.

What are some things you’ll never say to a kid again?

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