Things not to say to your child.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

We all say things without always thinking them through.  Off hand comments or chastisements that are fueled by anger, frustration, distraction or even, yes, good intentions.  We wouldn't be human if we didn't.  As The Spawn grow older and more emotionally aware, I'm trying to make a concerted effort to think about not just what I say but the effect of what the words may have, such as negative labeling of a person rather than behaviour in another post.

Some of the following I've probably said or The Husband or The grandparents have, maybe you've said them too? Thinking about them though, I'm going to try and explain why I'm going to try not to say them or perhaps how to paraphrase them in the future.


Should your child be looking particularly sullen or maybe downright miserable, through telling them to smile you're telling them to masque their feelings, to essentially oppress themselves.  Is this really what we want them to be doing?  Whether we deem their mood appropriate or not, it is still valid.

It will be fine.  Stop worrying.

Be it a trip to the doctors for some inoculations or a first day at school it's natural for your child to feel some element of anxiety or trepidation and is thus natural for us as parents to want to try and remove that.  However, through telling them how to feel or how not to feel we're not soothing their fears, we're invalidating them.  We're essentially making them worry about worrying and further still worrying that worrying about worrying will upset us.  Through trying to make something better we have actually inadvertently made it worse.  It's far better to acknowledge their fears, to let them know that it's actually okay to have them.  Ask them what they're particularly most nervous/worried about.  If it's the pain of a jab, be honest.  Let them know it may hurt but you'll be right there with them and it should be super quick.  If they're worried about something particular about school, help them come up with a way to cope and deal with it.  Accept that things might not be okay now, but it doesn't mean they won't be.

It's no big deal / Stop making it such a big deal /It doesn't matter / It's just a ....

It may not be to you but evidently it is a big deal to them.  A pebble to us can be a boulder to a child.  They see value and significance in the small things.  Just because something doesn't matter to us it doesn't mean it doesn't matter to them.

Last week, whilst returning from school with Things One and Two, The Toddler found a small bouncy ball.  He was playing with it for most of the walk then just as we were nearly home, it bounced away (as those pesky small bouncy balls usually do) onto the road and then started rolling away.  I tried to get him to walk on yet he really wanted the ball.  It was just a ball though right? it wasn't even his, he'd just found it.  They only get lost anyway.  He started crying.  Making a big deal over this stupid ball.  I tried to get him home but he wasn't throwing a tantrum he was genuinely heartbroken.  Who was I to tell him that this ball was meaningless?  Who was I to try and demean his desires and feelings?  It clearly wasn't just a stupid ball to him and he wasn't making a big deal, to him it was a big deal. It hadn't gone that far.  It wouldn't kill me to go get it.  So I went to retrieve it and he was enormously happy.

This doesn't mean that we always have to give in or say yes.  Not in the slightest.  If we're in a hurry and he really wanted to do/see something that seems insignificant and gets upset.  I could still acknowledge that he really wanted it and that I understand he is disappointed about it whilst saying no.

You're so clever!

It's true, they probably are.  Here's the but though, if you tell them they're really clever they may become afraid of trying something harder in case they struggle and they're not clever any more.  It can make them feel that that they're only clever if they get something right.  They start to fear failure.  If we comment on their effort rather than their attainment we're giving the understanding  that what matters is trying and they'll feel more encouraged to keep trying.

Stop crying! / Don't Cry!

You crossed the road in a hurry and they didn't get to press the button and they've been crying about it for the past five minutes.  For gods sake it was just a button.  It's not the end of the world.  Maybe they scraped their knee and there's not even a mark yet ten minutes later they're still crying about it or you told them off for something and they're crying.  By telling them to stop crying or to not cry we're once again invalidating how they feel based on how trivial we feel it may be.  We're telling them to not express their feelings.  Especially when young, many children can't adequately verbalise how they're feeling let alone control it.  They have a right to cry if they want to.  Another common one is 'Don't cry.  Be brave' insinuating that brave people can't cry or if they cry they're not brave.  If a child cries when you pull a splinter out, does it mean they weren't brave?  Or is the bravery really the fact they let you do it even though they were crying?

Crying is a normal and healthy expression.  If they're crying, no matter how frustrating it is, sometimes we just have to hold them and let them cry.  Let them stop when they're ready.  Let them know it's okay to cry and that even if we don't agree with why they're crying  (i.e they really wanted that to go in the shop)  they are still upset.  Hold them whilst they cry, if they'll let you, and let them know it's okay to feel what they're feeling.  You don't have to agree with a feeling, to validate it.  You can even help them verbalise it such as 'I know you're really sad/upset/angry/disappointed that you couldn't have that toy' You're verbalising what they can't and helping them understand so that in the future they can learn how to verbalise what they're feeling and eventually, with any luck, regulate their feelings.  It doesn't mean you have to go buy they're toy, you're just acknowledging how they feel.

Through telling a child not to cry, you're giving the message that you don't want to know what they're feeling or that what they're feeling doesn't matter.  You're inadvertently teaching them not to tell you what's wrong.  Is this a lesson we want them to learn?

What did you do that for?!

In the heat of the moment, it's highly unlikely you'll get an answer to this question, no matter how loud you ask it or how many times.  It's not because your child is purposefully being obtuse, the truth is at that exact moment in time they probably can't tell you.  Imagine your toddler (ours is a git for doing this) just lashed out at a sibling, the sibling is upset...the offending child is angry and frustrated and you as a parent are angry.  In the midst of this you're expecting a toddler to be able to analyse their behavior?    The child is most likely feeling irrational and defensive, the lashing out was probably more instinctual than malicious.  Reactionary rather than planned.  At this exact moment, they probably no longer know why they did it.  They may even deny doing it or even more annoying, they don't answer at all.

Try helping them verbalise their emotion that led to the action.  Explain why they shouldn't do it i.e 'That really hurt Thing One, he's upset and feels sad because you hit him.  ' Offer an alternative such as to come tell a grown up what's wrong or if they feel really angry to hit a cushion instead.

In these situations it's also really tempting to order them to say sorry.  The Husband still does despite me trying to explain why I'm trying so hard to not make them say sorry.

Good Girl/Boy!

It sounds harmless.  It sounds positive.  Why on earth could it possibly be a bad thing to say?  I'll openly admit, I use this a lot.  It's almost a reflex.  There's two main reasons though as to why I should stop saying it.  If you ask a child to do something, they do it and you say 'Good Boy!' you're not actually commenting on what they've done more the fact that they did what you asked them to do which then tells the child that they're only good when they're doing what you tell them to do.  Far better to acknowledge what they actually did 'Thanks for putting the pots away, it was a big help to me. I appreciate it.' The other reason is that we often overuse it to reward things that need to be done or should be done anyway.  A kid eats all their tea 'Good Girl!' A Toddler swallows the disgusting medicine 'Good Boy!' It becomes meaningless.  So when they bring home a positive report card from school and you say 'Good  Boy!' it's linking an achievement to something more mundane.  You could have been 'really impressed!' that she ate all her tea or 'I'm so happy you swallowed your medicine!' and 'I'm really proud that you've been trying your best at school'

Why can't you be more like your brother/sister

Well, ouch.  Granted if one child is behaving or tidier or quieter than the other it's really easy to let this slip out.  You're not actually comparing the behaviour though, you're comparing the children and basically saying that one child is better than the other or insinuating that you like/love the other child more.

I promise...

Be careful with this one.  Kids rarely ever forget a broken promise.  Only ever promise if you genuinely mean it and can follow through.  Promises are almost sacred to children.  Rather than promise perhaps say 'I'll try to... ' or 'If I can I'll' etc

Sometimes we do break promises.  We're human.  If we inadvertently break a promise it's vital we acknowledge this and apologise for it.  Explain why you broke it.


  1. Some really really good points here. It's hard to remember to do these things in the heat of the moment but good to keep them in mind and aspire to them!

    1. Thanks for reading :) I guess that's all we can do, to aspire to them. We're only human.


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