What Not to Say to Your Kid

29 Jun 2006

Browsing at the new Zhongshan Park Carrefour’s book section, I discovered this book called 父母不该对孩子说的100句话 (literally, “100 Sentences Parents Shouldn’t Say to their Children“). Since I didn’t grow up in China and I almost never watch Chinese TV, I really don’t have much of an idea of what Chinese parents say to their young children. So this book caught my attention. Some of its content is easy to anticipate, but at times also offers tidbits of social insight or even some cultural humor. I’ll share a few of the ones I found interesting (but I’ll spare you the book’s child psychology counseling).

1. 你是从垃圾堆里捡的 (We found you in a trash heap.)
I thought the stork bringing babies was kind of weird, but it’s better than this alternative. The crazy thing is that it seems that the majority of young people in China today are told this by their parents as a joke! They think it’s funny, and the kid believes it. Unbelievable.

2. 你就这成绩以后扫大街去 (With grades like this, you’re going to be sweeping streets someday.)
Apparently in China being a street sweeper is worse than being a garbage man. I think the guys that wash out the septic tank trucks down the road might envy the street sweepers, though.

3. 你怎么这么笨 (How can you be so stupid!)
Classic!

4. 你的脑袋里长草了 (You’ve got grass growing on your brain.)
Chinese caustic creativity.

5. 你看看人家的孩子 (Look at the other kids.)
One of my Chinese friends has told me that she believes that Chinese parents’ constant comparisons between their children and other children are the single most damaging thing to Chinese children’s development.

6. 千万别得罪老师 (Whatever you do, do not offend your teacher.)
Ah, Confucius would be so proud.

7. 别动,等你长大再帮我 (Don’t move. You can help me when you’re older.)

8. 你的任务就是好好学习,其他的别管 (Your job is studying. Don’t worry about anything else.)
This is why modern Chinese kids never have to do any chores or help out around the house in any way.

9. 妈帮你去说对不起 (Mommy will go say sorry for you.)
Yeah, you wouldn’t want your kid to realize he is responsible for his own actions.

10. 我没本事,咱家就看你的了 (I don’t have any real skills. Our family is depending on you.)
No pressure, though.

11. 当心,摔下来我可不管 (Be careful. If you trip, I’m not going to help you.)
Is this supposed to teach independence?

12. 那么难看,你还喜欢 (You actually like something this ugly?)
Sometimes kids need to know they have horrible, horrible taste.

13. 你哪有钱去捐款呀 (Like you have enough money to make a donation?)

14. 你在等我表扬你吗 (Are you waiting for me to praise you?)
Sometimes teaching modesty goes a little too far.

15. 那个人真不是东西 (That person is nothing.)

16. 没事,反正没人看见 (Don’t worry, no one saw us.)

17. 不准失败 (You may not fail.)

18. 你问我,我问谁 (You ask me, but then who do I ask?)
I can’t help but find the thought of saying this to a child funny.

19. 闭嘴,小孩子问那么多干嘛 (Shut up. Kids don’t need to ask so many questions.)
Ah, nipping curiosity in the bud at a young age. This helps prevent the later problem of ingenuity and/or problem-solving.

20. 别问这些不要脸的事情 (Don’t ask about such shameful things.)
Is he asking about the garbage heap, maybe?

21. 你怎么不明白我的苦心呢 (Can’t you understand how much I’ve sacrificed for you?)
The Asian parent guilt game! Gotta love it.

22. 早知道这样,当初就不该生你 (If I had known you’d turn out like this, I never would have given birth to you.)
Ouch!

Clearly, we shouldn’t be too hard on Chinese parents. They have a tough job, and they’re imperfect just like the rest of the world’s parents. But here’s hoping some of these sentences become less common in the future… for the children. (OK, sorry, I’ve never used that phrase before, and I had to do it just once.)

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. John, great post. I’m going to go to the bookstore when I get to Beijing and buy a copy. It does help explain a lot though….

  2. Disturbingly, two of my former buxiban bosses used to say things like 你成績這麼爛以後就掃大街去 all the friggin’ time!!! Numbers 8 (你的任務就是好好學習), 9 (媽媽幫你說對不起) and 19 (閉嘴…) are also far too common. Finding kids on a trash heap, though… now that’s a new one for me.

  3. Spicygirl Says: June 29, 2006 at 1:09 pm

    I guess my parents are pretty good then, considering I only heard #1 and #19 from them.

  4. for the record Says: June 29, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Ooo, I went through the list like it was a quiz in a magazine and mentally ticked off all the ones I’ve had said to me by parents PLUS members of the extended family and the total is 14. The 垃圾堆 one (#1) is indeed an old-school classic, but I doubt that many kids really believe it. All it does is educate them on the use of metaphor at a delightfully early age. #4, 脑袋里长草 helps with that too.

    18 你问我,我问谁 is the best because everyone can use it, anytime, all the time.

  5. A very entertaining post!

  6. Greg P. Says: June 29, 2006 at 9:28 pm

    Did you buy this book? Are you going to keep in plain sight at your condo? You might need it as a reminder one day. haha.
    I’m glad you posted this because I can show it to some of the managers that I work with. It seems that they use some of these lines. Maybe they used to be a Chinese parent in a former life.
    I hope to see ya this summer
    Greg

  7. Gosh, I’ve gotta get a copy of this book! My parents have said to me pretty much every one of the things you listed. I’d love to shove this book under their noses and let them know why it is I refuse to listen to them now. 😀

  8. more classic seeing it from a non-Chinese’s points of view…:)

  9. 你是从垃圾堆里捡的. This sentence is not very bad because in China sex is always a secret thing and for this reason parents don’t want to tell children how they came to this world. Even today there’s no sex education in high schools. In addition, it’s forbidden to show condom to high school students.

    when i was young i asked my parents how i came to the world and they told they found me in the bathroom one year after they got married.

  10. John,

    did the term 飯桶 (“rice bucket”) ever show up in that list? I have always wanted to write a song about it with Elvis’ “You ain’t nothing but a 飯桶”.

  11. Did it have “Don’t play with your little bird or it will fly away”? The parents of a guy I dated used to say that. Apparently, it’s the Chinese equivalent of “don’t touch yourself or you’ll go blind.”

  12. carol, there are lots of lies you could tell to explain where a child came from…it just seems like finding a kid in the rubbish is almost the worst — it either implies that the child is no better than garbage, or they were discarded by someone else, or both. The lie your parents told you is nicer than this one. One of the lies used for this purpose in english-speaking countries is that a stork (鹳) brings the baby to the parents.

    It’s not only Chinese parents who find it embarrassing to talk about sex with their children!

  13. hoho all these sound so familiar i couldn’t help but chuckle whilst reading them. thankfully i wasn’t a recipient of many of these favourite phrases, save for #2, #6 and #8.

    22 is awful though. one of my aunts said that to my 8 year old cousin – i was so angry when i found out she was saying such horrible things to her young daughter. that poor girl.

    你是从垃圾堆里捡的 isn’t that bad though, i don’t remember anyone feeling horrid about it when their parents told them that, probably because many were told the same story so it was kinda like “hey most of my friends come from trash heaps too so i’m not any worse off than my peers”.

  14. Is it OK to say these statements to other people’s kids? This post is giving me some good ideas.

  15. check out a Singaporean film by Jack Neo called “I not stupid”. The sequel, which deals with many of these issues around chinese parenting was realised this year and is called “I not stupid too.”

  16. What Not to Say to Your Kid…

    What Not to Say to Your Kid: My parents used to say #1 all the time, when I was a kid. Come to think of it, it is a rather nasty thing to say. (via wurh.com)

    ……

  17. you can’t believe how many of those lines i’ve heard of countless of times when i was growing up… oh… hang on… i still hear a lot of those now, when i’m already 26 and earning my own keep.

  18. Bravo! 一针见血!

  19. Oh gosh. I’ve heard so many of these growing up. No. 22 was quite common when my parents were pissed at me. When they’re listed like this I can’t help but laugh, but really, thinking about it they’re not really nice things to say. No. 5 is undoubtedly the worst. I used to get into major fights w/ my parents whenever they said that.

    I’ll admit to saying no. 12 to my own lil sis, but teaching some style isn’t so harmful. You’ve just got to put your foot down when your lil sis wants to wear some pink nylon Sleeping Beauty costume to a party.

    I still love my parents though, but gosh if they didn’t screw me up.

  20. lovely! i think i’ve heard every one of them from my mom.

  21. I am a Chinese girl.My parents have said to me:We found you in a trash heap.really.Pretty much each Chinese parents have said to their kids: We found you in a trash heap!Some of the kids believe!But I never believe they found me in a trash heap.My English not very well,so……^_^ I am soorry.

  22. Xiao Du Says: July 21, 2006 at 2:16 am

    Haha, these quotes are just too funny. I am studying in Beijing Language University in Beijing and I’ve heard some of these quotes on the streets. I give the street sweeper a friendly smile, tell him your parents are proud of you, then help him. ^^

  23. 8 is so not true for me. I get yelled at for not studying and when I do study, they yell at me for not doing the chores. I’ve gotten all of the more hurtful ones though and listed here, they don’t seem to be too damaging unless you actually have to listen to your parents saying them to you.

  24. I had so much fun reading through the list. We could do a test result page like “you scored a total of 97: Call Child Abuse now…” depending on how many sentences you ticked off.
    Number 21, 8 and 5 are real killers (I would know). 21 and 5 are tied for the first spot in terms of damage done to child’s personal development.
    I really wish someone would hold up a mirror to Asian parents or have them do this rolepaying game in which you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

  25. Mista Si Tu Says: November 18, 2006 at 11:50 am

    with the exceptions of 1, 8, 9 and 10, I’ve heard em all from my parent’s. And I’m a white guy. I guess it just goes to show most parents are pretty bad at their jobs. who knows~

  26. […] yhk22 不該對孩子說的100句話 […]

  27. I’m from Canada and my parents used to joke they bought me from K-Mart! Maybe the West has it own equivalents to all of these phrases.

  28. Greg Pasden Says: September 3, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Love the Humor! One day I will read this again when I have kids of my own… make sure you remind me. haha.

  29. I have heard all of them except 22, 20, 17,16,15,13,9.So I guess my parents are not too bad.number 5 is worst …..I used to hated it when my mom say that.really….you just can´t say that.but I still love my parents almost all the time.

  30. I’m going to need to start using some of these on my Chinese friends:

    “Your parents found you on a trash heap!”

  31. I’m very lucky, have not heard any of those from my parents. Although my younger sisters got equivalent of 5) “look at your big sis”, hehe.

    From where I come from, the equivalent of 1) is “we found you when there was a flood” 发大水时捡来的。

  32. I’m a Chinese mother, and I have never heard the above mentioned sayings from my colleages, most of whom are mothers too.
    I think most of the sayings are fictional.

  33. Hey Ruth,

    Like Unicorns?

    Thanks for the list, it was a nice trip to the past. 🙂

  34. […] (Mitbegründer von chinesepod.com) fand dieses Buch bei einem seiner vielen Entdeckungstouren. Die eine oder andere Bemerkung eignen sich aber […]

  35. How about the classic and rampant “lazy” comments? As a teacher in Taiwan and teaching ABC in the U.S. parents would say all the time to their kids “你怎么那么懒惰?“ (How come you are so lazy) or to me “他太懒惰” (He is just so lazy). I always felt sorry for the kids, like it was setting them up for failure.

  36. ruth: you’re wrong

    they are told to millions of children in china

  37. Mo Shaoxian Says: September 1, 2009 at 7:01 am

    OMG!! My parents have used nearly every one of these on me all through my childhood! Until this very moment, I thought I was the only one who was found in a trash heap. Thank you. Thank you, for writing this. You have no idea.

  38. My parents told me i was stupid cause i couldn’t add something up

  39. hmn… They should make one for american parents. I remember being told extravagant lies when i was little. Like if you dig a hole deep enough you can get to china.There where some other doozies.

  40. […] Asia article that reflects our own experiences with Chinese cultures’ highly-pressured kids: What Not to Say to Your Kid: …Some of its content is easy to anticipate, but at times also offers tidbits of social […]

  41. Someone thinks this story is hao-tastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

  42. […] the first one, which compares conception to getting a shot at the doctor’s and makes fun of the classic Chinese answer to, “Where did I come […]

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