Among the things that mental health experts say parents should never say to a child are the phrases: "Why can't you be more like you sister?" and "Hey everyone, look at what a baby Johnny is." Negative comparisons and public shaming are two of 10 parental behaviors identified as verbal abuse. Like physical abuse, verbal abuse can slow and negatively affect the brain development of young children. In older kids, verbal abuse causes mental anguish, depression and low self-esteem. It may also make it harder for adolescents to develop and maintain healthy relationships when they grow up [sources: Sclafani, Better Brains for Better Babies, Coyne and Purdy].
Parents use verbal putdowns as a way to shame their son or daugher into doing better. But verbal putdowns aren't constructive criticism, and kids don't feel motivated to improve their behavior because of negative comparisons. They just feel humiliated and betrayed by their parent [source: Hicks].
Instead of making negative comparisons between your children, or between your child and his or her peers, identify your boy or girl's unique strengths and qualities and cultivate an appreciation for them. If you must vent about a particular incident involving your kid, do so with a trusted confidant when your son or daughter isn't around to hear the conversation. Don't try to discuss the issue in veiled phrases and code words in your child's presence. Kids are smart, and your subterfuge won't fool them.
Parents usually want to give their children as many good experiences as they can, but there can be too much of a good thing, which we'll discuss on the next page.