Speak No Evil

“God, I’m fat. I need to go on a diet.”

Children, especially girls, are constantly bombarded with messages about how they should look. Don’t contribute to the problem and potentially set off a lifetime of problems with negative body image. Talk about a healthy eating plan, but stay away from the word “diet.” Always stress the value of being healthy rather than being thin.

“She is so obnoxious.”

When you badmouth people, you make it acceptable. You’re even giving kids a script to use with their friends. Keep the critique to yourself whenever possible or, if you must discuss it, focus on the offensive behavior (“It wasn’t nice that she gossiped!”) rather than bashing the entire person (“What a bitch!”).

“Is Megan your black friend?”

It goes without saying that you should avoid racial slurs. But you really shouldn’t even use race to identify people. If you do, you’re creating distinctions your child might not otherwise consider. It’s just as easy to note that the girl wears braids or is very tall.

“Tell her I’m not here.”

It seems harmless to dodge an unwanted phone call. Sometimes, you’re just not in the mood to talk to your old amiga from 8th grade. But in doing so, you’re demonstrating that it’s sometimes okay to lie. Even little lies set a bad example; children can’t distinguish between a white lie and a whopper of a tale, so they’re likely to commit both.

“I don’t know why I ever had a kid with you.”

Anytime you fight with your child’s dad, and we’re sure you have plenty of reasons to, you cause your niño immense pain. Children become confused and hurt when they discover that the people they love have faults. It’s perfectly okay to disagree—just keep the discussion calm, maintain a neutral tone of voice and stick to the specific issue at hand.

—Aviva Patz