My whole philosophy is to focus on using our words for good. And sometimes this means not saying things that are unhelpful during the most challenging times with our kids. I have compiled a list of some of the most unhelpful things I have said as a parent – and have seen many, many other parents say in my office.
Unhelpful saying #1: There is no reason to cry.
While I understand what we are trying to tell our kids in this moment, let me share a secret with all of us – when our kids are crying….they see a VERY REAL REASON to cry. They hurt their knee. They lost the game. Their friend took their toy. All of those, in their minds, are very reasonable reasons to cry. And truth be told…how many of us have cried at sappy movies that might also “not be a reason to cry” ??
Instead: Honor how your child is feeling. Give them the tools for expressing their emotions. For instance, “I saw how hard you fell down. And I see that your knee is bleeding. Are you okay?” or “I bet you are really disappointed that you lost today. I know how hard that feeling is. Tell me what you hoped would happen differently.” or “I see that your friend took your toy. Go ask him for it back by saying, ‘I was playing with that toy. Could I have it back?'”
See how these are much clearer in both honoring their experience and teaching emotional expression?
Unhelpful saying #2: Don’t worry.
Like the “There is no reason to cry” statement – if your child is worrying, they really believe there is a reason to worry. And when we shut them down by saying, “Don’t worry” – we are essentially saying – your feelings don’t matter and they aren’t relevant to this situation. Let me give you an example. I have a lot of clients who are fearful of storms or tornadoes (hooray for living in the Midwest!). And time and time again, I hear parents say, “There is nothing to worry about.” or “Don’t worry about it. Let mommy and daddy worry about it.” For most of our kids, that just isn’t how it works for them. They have seen the destruction of storms. They have heard that people can die from being struck by lightning. So they have every reason to worry that it would happen to them.
Instead: Ask them more specifically about what they are worried about. Rather than shutting down their anxiety, I encourage parents to draw it out of their child. Ask them how they learned about storms. Ask them what they know about tornadoes. Educate them with correct information in books or online to ease their worry. Share personal stories about your own fears growing up and how you have learned to be calm when you get worried. Beyond storms, kids have lots of other worries, too. But the process is still the same. Draw information about their worries out of them by asking questions, listen to their fears, acknowledge their fears are valid, and educate them on the truth of what would/should/could happen in their specific scenario. AND THEN, follow-up with them the next hour, or next day, or next month to see how they are doing. This will solidify in them that you are listening and are connecting to how they are feeling too!
Unhelpful saying #3: Calm Down.
Typically, this statement is made when a child (or adult) is expressing emotions in such a way that it makes us uncomfortable (or upset). In other words, our child is not managing their emotions the way we believe they should be. So we say, “calm down.” Here’s the problem with ‘calm down’…. it sends the message that your child’s feelings are wrong. Or inappropriate. And trust me when I say… this might NOT be the right time to be telling them they are wrong! In the heat of our emotional meltdowns, for any of us, we don’t really want to hear we are wrong. It only fuels the fire and actually does the opposite of what we are saying! Typically when we tell a child who is melting down to “calm down” – they usually become MORE angry, not calmer.
Instead: When anyone we love is having a meltdown, it may be best for us to first take a deep breath. And frankly, it might be best to encourage them to take a deep breath, too. When our kids are upset, often these are times when they need understanding more than anything. They want to feel heard and understood in their emotion. But first, they have to be lucid. And meltdown are anything but lucid! So take a 2-3 minutes to help your child become calm by sitting near them or giving them space (depending on your child) and once they have calmed down on their own (or with your help), then you can have a conversation about what triggered them. I was at a conference recently where the presenter shared some recent research that described our emotions lasting approximately 45 seconds. JUST 45 SECONDS! That shocks most people initially, but once you stop to think about it…our actual feeling of an emotion doesn’t last much longer than a minute or two. It is the continued thoughts about the person driving in front of us who cut us off that repeated makes us think angry thoughts for longer than that. But the true physiological feeling of anger isn’t the whole 15 minute rant in the car.
So just remember — don’t SAY “Calm down” – HELP them calm down and then talk to them about how they are feeling and what happened. And remember — feelings don’t last too long – so you can be brave and walk into the storm of a meltdown!
I am planning a series of “unhelpful sayings” – so please share your ideas!
I need your help!!
What do you say (or have heard others say) that almost never gets the ‘right’ results??
photo cred: pexels.com Josh Willink