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Expert advice

02nd Nov 2023

Five phrases you should avoid with kids, according to a psychologist


These days, knowing what parenting style and advice to follow can be an absolute minefield.

With so many routes to choose from, figuring out what is the best for your kid is essential.

Every child is unique and their emotional and physical needs differ, so it’s never going to be a one-fit-for-all process.

The language we use when dealing with outbursts, tantrums, and cheeky behaviour helps to form their view of the world as well as what is and is not acceptable.

Without realising, we could be using terms that professionals deem inappropriate in teaching our little ones right from wrong.

Psychologists, who are also parents, have revealed some of the phrases they avoid saying to their kids and why.

‘I’m disappointed in you’

Paediatric psychologist and parental coach, Ann-Louise Lockhart, told HuffPost that this is a phrase she avoids altogether.

Listing the reasons for this, she said hearing it “stings a bunch” no matter how old you are, and it can lead to some “undesirable outcomes down the line”.

This is because when a parent says they’re disappointed in their kid, the child could start parent-pleasing.

They become hyper-aware of making mistakes “to avoid hearing these hurtful words again,” Lockhart advised.

This anxious and perfectionistic thinking can spill over into other areas of their life.

‘Calm down’

Everyone has been told to “calm down” while in the height of emotion at some point in their lives, and it likely made you more upset than before.

The same goes for the little ones in your life; simply because being dismissive isn’t going to soothe them, it could actually make matters worse.

Clinical psychologist Martha Deiros Collado, told HuffPost that when her child is overwhelmed, she knows that “telling her to calm down is going to backfire.

“You cannot bottle up emotion that needs to be released,” she explained.

“That doesn’t make anyone calm; it just makes an explosive outburst more likely. Before the calm, the emotion needs to come out, and what it is trying to communicate needs to get heard.”

Instead, she said: “I use clearer instructions, like, ‘Look at me,’ ‘Let’s do some belly breathing’ or ‘Let’s go to the cool-down spot.’

“Providing clear instructions on what the child should be doing helps to redirect focus to strategies that will help the child to calm down.”

‘Use your words’

Deiros Collado said she does not ask her daughter to “use her words” because she knows that in some cases her child may not be capable of that.

When “she says gibberish at me in a whiney tone of voice, I know she is feeling under stress and asking her to ‘use your words’ is an unfair request.”

Instead, Deiros Collado says she repeats what she thinks her child is trying to say in simple terms and with a kind tone.

For example, she may respond: “You are hungry. You want mummy to please make you a snack?”

‘Stop crying’

Whatever the cause of their tears may be, keep in mind that sadness, anger and frustration are all normal emotions that children should be allowed to express freely.

Crying is “human and healthy,” Deiros Collado said before adding that she never says this to her child or anyone else.

“Tears are useful in healing our emotional and physical pain,” Deiros Collado said.

When tears show up, I accept them and listen to what they are trying to communicate.”

So rather than telling her daughter not to cry, she tries to encourage her to let her tears out while reassuring her that it’s alright to do so.

‘Because I said so’

This term is one used far too often by parents and Graham said it is “pretty irritating” so she tries not to use it with her kids.

Hearing this phrase when you’re looking for an answer “can be frustrating because it lacks an explanation for a decision – usually a denial – about something meaningful to the person asking.”

She went on to say that she prefers to provide an age-appropriate explanation for why she came to the decision.

“If the child continues to ask, rather than saying, ‘Because I said so,’ I validate their feelings.”

She used an example by responding: “I know you wanted to … ’ And then let them know the conversation is moving on: ‘… But I have already explained why. So I will not talk about this further.’”