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You look well

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You’d expect this to be a compliment. And, coming from anyone other than a parent, it probably is. However, in parent-speak, it’s a way of telling you that you don’t look quite yourself but they don’t really want to upset you by saying so directly.

I’ll think about it

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This is parent-speak 101 for beginners. It means, of course, forget it, I’ll never agree to it. Goodness knows why parents still say it given that there can’t be a parent anywhere who doesn’t have dismal memories of being on the receiving end of this throwaway response.

Back in my day

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Parents and kids both understand that things change as times change. However, while kids know no different and so are usually happy with the status quo, parents often seem to hark back to “the old days”. It’s a parent’s way of trying to get their kid to understand how times used to be harder and, by comparison, how much easier things are now.

I’m not mad

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One thing’s for sure and that’s that a parent who says this means the opposite. In fact, they’re probably so mad that they don’t know how to react and, by saying, “I’m not mad”, they’re buying themselves a little time. The phrase is also a useful cue to a kid to get away while they can.

I’m not a taxi service

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If Dad (or Mom) isn’t a taxi service, why does their car display a window sticker proclaiming the vehicle as “Dad’s taxi service”? Yes, he knows he’s his kid’s personal, free taxi – and the kid knows it too. Saying that he isn’t is his way of reminding his kid to be grateful for all the chauffeuring duties.

Dinner’s ready

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If ever there was a phrase designed to halt a kid from foraging in the refrigerator, this phrase is the one. Of course, it can actually mean anything from, “I haven’t started cooking yet” to “Dinner is nearly ready but you won’t like it so I need you to be properly hungry to eat it”.

If it makes you happy

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One of the nicer of the parental phrases, this is a parent’s way of acknowledging that their kid is an individual who can make their own choices. Sure, Mom or Dad won’t always agree with those choices but, as long as their kid is happy, they’ll live with them.

Ask your Dad

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A classic buck-passing phrase, “Ask your Dad” often means, “I don’t want to say yes because I don’t really approve of what you want. However, if you ask your Dad, he’ll agree, you get what you want and I haven’t compromised my principles.” Makes sense? No? Maybe you have to be a parent to understand this one.

Have you met anyone nice?

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A classic Mom question for any kid who’s recently started a new school, club or college. It’s probably genuinely meant – because, after all, your Mom (and your Dad) will want you to meet nice people who might become friends. However, it’s also a not-so-subtle reminder that you might need to put yourself out there a bit to make this happen.

We won’t stay long

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Ah ha ha ha! Yes, yes, we will. The parent who’s saying this knows it as well as the kid who’s hearing it. So why the charade? It’s probably a lame – and very disguised – attempt at an apology for dragging the kid on yet another outing or visit that everyone knows they won’t enjoy.

Do you think that’s a good idea?

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Translation: “This is a terrible idea. It’s so bad that it’s possibly the worst idea ever.” The benign-sounding alternative is a parent who knows that saying what they really think is a sure-fire of ensuring that the kid does exactly what the parent is so opposed to. Instead, the parent hopes to prompt the kid into revisiting the decision all by themselves.

Do you know who’s responsible for this?

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Uh oh. There are two main possibilities behind this question. The first is a parent who knows exactly who is responsible but wants that person to own up – and own up fast. The second is a parent who doesn’t know who’s responsible but is prepared to ground everyone in sight and disable all their tech until the culprit is identified.


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Gahhhhhh! Why can’t a parent who means “no”, just say no? For a younger kid, “maybe” is infused with all kinds of delightful possibilities, which makes the inevitable “no” even more crushing. However, an older, more cynical kid will know that it means “no, and I don’t have time or headspace to explain or revisit my decision”.

I’ll be with you in 5 minutes

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It’s one of the most dispiriting things to hear your parent say when you phone to check on the progress of your lift. Of course, it’s nice that they’re coming to get you and even kind of sweet that they don’t want to admit that they’re still 10 blocks and a whole load of traffic away. However, some candour – and better timekeeping – wouldn’t hurt!

Ask your Mom

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All too often (at least from a kid’s perspective), this is code for: “This is a hard no but I don’t want to be the one to say it”. It is, of course, another classic example of buck-passing – and one that most kids get wise to pretty fast.

I only need a couple of things

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Any “quick stop” at the grocery store that’s prefaced by this remark is sure to turn into a ten bag, two hour-long shopping marathon. What’s worse, there’s a good chance that none of those ten bags will contain a comic, candy, or anything else designed to cheer up the kid who’s been dragged along on the excursion.

Are you going out like that?

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Yes, there are more brutal ways for a parent to comment on what their – usually teen – kid is wearing. However, it’s still a clear indication that the parent strongly dislikes or disapproves of their kid’s choice of clothing. A sensitive teen may react by running back into their room and slamming the door. A more robust one will probably skip out of the house laughing.

They seem very nice

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It’s the kiss of death to potential friendship. A parent who makes this remark may mean it genuinely and, to a certain type of kid, this is an approval and a validation that they absolutely don’t want. Sometimes, though, it’s a parent’s ham-fisted attempt to force a friendship that their kid doesn’t want.

We have food at home

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You know the scenario: you’re out somewhere, starving, and you pass a burger stand, a milkshake bar or a display of candy bars. However, when you suggest that your doting parent might buy you something to take the edge off your hunger, they respond with a reminder that there’s food at the place where you are not – in other words, at home. Helpful. Not.

Have you phoned Grandma?

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Your Mom (or Dad) already knows the answer to this. What’s more, they know you know they know the answer. However, it’s their attempt at a pointed reminder to phone your grandmother and thank her for the gift/money/trip out before she phones your parents to bawl them out for raising such an ungrateful kid.

You can only spend it once

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This is a finely-tuned parental comment that’s designed to suffocate any joy you might otherwise have felt in spending money on something you dearly want. Of course, it probably also indicates how your Mom or Dad knows full well that once you’ve spent the money on your heart’s desire, you’ll quickly find something else you must have…..

You treat this place like a hotel

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A regular refrain of most childhoods, especially once the teen years hit, this phrase is a reminder to a kid that they aren’t, in fact, paying for bed and board and shouldn’t behave accordingly. The specifics vary between families but the parent may be expecting more chores from the kid or, at the very least, for them to tidy up their own mess.

How nice

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It’s the parental equivalent of the “mmmh-hmmm” we’re all sometimes guilty of when not giving our full attention to the person on the other end of the phone. Said by a parent to a kid, it means, “I know that you’re saying something to me and you really want my approval or input but I don’t have time or inclination to pay attention right now”.

Money doesn’t grow on trees

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How ridiculous. You know money doesn’t grow on trees. And your parents know that you’ve known that since you were at least four. No, you know money comes from your parents – and until they learn to be direct enough to say no to your requests and tell you to find a part-time job instead, you’ll keep shaking them down for the cash.

You don’t live in a barn

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Parents worry about many things that kids generally never think about. Usually, they’re boring things, like how much the fuel bill costs and who is going to clean the mud off the rug. Reminding you that you don’t live in a barn is their sarcastic way of sharing these concerns with you. Yes, they want you to shut the door and wipe your feet.

Good afternoon

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When said to an acquaintance as you pass in the street or to the bank teller, this is a perfectly polite greeting. When spoken by a parent to their teenage offspring who’s just emerged from their still-darkened bedroom when half the day is already gone, it’s a subtle dig. At the very least, it’s suggesting that the kid really should get up earlier.

No, don’t get me anything for my birthday

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This is one said by a certain type of martyr-ish parent. A clever kid will learn the translation after only one gift-less birthday has gone by: “No one ever thinks I deserve anything for my birthday but I’ve left my wish list under the shopping list on the kitchen notice board”.

Are you getting much sleep?

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It’s what your Mom is bound to say when you’ve been at camp or college for the first few days. She knows you’ve been running rings around the counsellors after lights-out or partying until dawn but she doesn’t want to hear about it. Plus, she wants to remind you that sleep is a necessity for good health.

Don’t tell your Mom

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The clever kid who’s worked out which parent is most likely to acquiesce to particular requests will hear this phrase every now and then. It’s one parent entering into a conspiracy with their kid in order to allow the kid to do what they want while not upsetting the other parent.

I won’t tell you again…..

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This is another one with two possibilities behind it. One type of parent will use the phrase as a warning that awful things will happen if their kid persists in doing whatever it is that prompted the comment. The other type of parent says it because they can’t think what else to say – and will keep repeating for as long as the behavior persists.

This will all end in tears

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Sometimes, this is a parent’s way of making it clear that their kid won’t be getting their own way no matter how big the tantrum or how many tears are shed. Sometimes, however, it’s the resigned cry of a parent who’s had enough and is hoping that the warning will be enough to make their kid stop doing whatever it is they’re doing.

You’ll understand when you’re older

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It might be meant genuinely but it’s a phrase guaranteed to put the back up of any kid who hears it. In the kid’s viewing, their parent is simply ducking out of their responsibilities by not providing a full and frank explanation. Meanwhile, the parent may see it as protecting their kid from something they’re not ready to deal with.

You won’t feel the benefit

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Has you Mom or Dad ever told to take your coat off – and followed it up with this phrase? It’s ridiculous: after all, if you’re cold in a chilly room, why wouldn’t you keep your coat on? How will that make you feel colder when you go outside? If it makes you feel better, they’re probably only repeating what they were told as a child.

Don’t make me turn this car around

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Most kids understand that this is an empty threat. After all, if you’re in the middle of the freeway or en route to the airport to catch a plane, no one is going to be turning around anywhere. No matter what prompts the threat, the best response is always the same: head down and wait for the storm to pass.

I’ll give you something to cry about

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If you analyze this phrase too closely, it’s not a very nice one. However, thankfully, most parents don’t mean it literally. It’s usually employed out of sheer desperation when a kid simply won’t stop crying. Of course, that rarely make it an effective tactic but, then again, parenting is hard and parents don’t always get it right.

I’ll wipe that smile off your face

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Well, thanks….. That might be the short response from the kid whose parent uses this little gem. Again, the parent (hopefully) doesn’t mean it literally. It’s usually said out of a sense of frustration when up against a particularly disrespectful kid or one projecting some major attitude.

I’ll send it to the starving children in Africa

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It’s just a bit…..cringe, isn’t it? The kid who’s refusing to eat his lovingly-prepared meal probably knows all about how other children elsewhere in the world don’t have enough to eat. However, is his Mom or Dad seriously suggesting that his uneaten bolognaise be shipped off and sent to one of them?

I’ll just leave you here

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A classic response to a toddler having a tantrum in public, it’s totally ineffectual on two fronts. First, just saying it guarantees that the kid is going to take the tantrum up a notch. And, secondly, the parent has no intention of leaving the kid. At most, all they’ll do is pretend to hide behind a nearby tree or rack of discounted dresses.

If you act like a child, I’ll treat you like one

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Smart younger kids will respond with something like, “Well, I am a child”. Other kids – usually older ones wanting to do something that their parent considers is still out of their league – will huff and strop, ensuring that the parent tries to double down. But, really, when it’s a teen who’s acting up, putting them on the naughty step isn’t going to cut it.

Do as I say not as I do

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Actually, this is one statement where the parent probably does mean what they say. Unfortunately for them, the hypocrisy of the statement is too much for most kids. This makes it an unwise reaction if you really want to stop your kid from doing something.