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This article is the second half of a two-part series addressing common, well intentioned phrases that many parents say to children that can actually be harmful for their mental health. You can read part one of this series, 5 Harmful Things to Say to Children and What to Say Instead (Part 1), on The Lily-Jo Project blog here

As children, many of us were told to “suck it up” or things of that nature. 

However, rather than just hiding our big feelings, what if we taught children how to handle their challenges and self regulate? Wouldn’t that be more helpful as they grow and encounter those tough situations that are bound to blow up their emotions? 

Let’s take a look at five more commonly used phrases that attempt to move children past a challenge and explore some alternative language that could perhaps achieve our goals for them in a better way.

5 MORE Harmful Phrases for Children – and What to Say Instead

“Stop being dramatic!”

As an adult, telling me not to be dramatic is a surefire way to prolong my bad mood – and children are no different.

If one of my kiddos is in the middle of a meltdown, sometimes I will start belting out “Let It Go” Queen Elsa style as loudly as possible. Though I might get the pouty lip for a few more seconds, inevitably smiles and giggles start creeping in shortly after. Even as an adult, if I am stuck in my emotions, and Len (my husband) is being goofy or silly, I tend to snap out of it pretty quickly.

Insted of “stop being dramatic!” try to infuse humor into the situation.

“It’s your problem to fix”

Our children must have a model to learn how to problem solve. They need explicit instruction, opportunities to practice solving problems with your supervision, and opportunities to practice solving problems independently. 

If they say they do not know how to solve a problem, they either genuinely do not know how to solve the problem or they lack the confidence to do so independently. Either way, it is our job to help get them to be an independent problem solver, and that means lots and lots (and lots) of practice.

Instead of “It’s your problem to fix” try, “How would you like me to help you? Should I step in and show you how to fix this? Or, would you like me to offer ideas and you can decide on your own?”

“Just chill out” or “Calm down.”

Along the same lines as “Stop being dramatic”, do not tell a child (or anyone, really) to “Just chill out” or “Calm down.” They will not “chill out” or “calm down.” Instead, try, “To me, you seem pretty upset. Do you want to talk about what is bothering you?” While this may not always work, it is definitely bound to get less explosive results than “just chill out” or “calm down.”

Instead of “Just chill out” try “To me, you seem pretty upset. Do you want to talk about what is bothering you, or do you need some space?”

“What is wrong with you?”

To say something is “wrong” with a child definitely feels like a judgment, even if it is not intended that way. You hear, “Why are you upset?” Your child hears, “Showing my emotions or being upset is wrong. It makes me bad.”

Instead of “What is wrong with you?” try, “What is bothering you?”

“I could do that when I was your age”

Remember that all children grow and develop at different rates. Comparing your child to anyone else is a surefire way to breed resentment within your family. When I was growing up, people compared my sister and I all the time. We were very different. I am quite certain there were times when we despised each other over those comparisons. Do yourself a favor and give your children one less reason to argue…you’ll thank me later. Ha!

Instead of “I could do that when I was your age” or “Your brother/sister could do that by the time they were your age” try, “Here…let’s practice together!”

Final Thoughts

When thinking about what language to use with your children, it is important to consider your goals. Are you wanting your child to learn how to self regulate? Improve relationships within your family? Whatever your current goal is for your child, our interactions with them need to be intentional in helping them gain that skill.

For more advice on parenting and building family relationships, check out our other resources for parents below:

You can also visit our FB group dedicated to parents and those who work with youth. There is a wealth of resources there on tending to the mental health of our children. You can request to join here – looking forward to seeing you there!

About the Author: Brandy Browne

Brandy Browne is an early childhood educator in the United States, as well as a family coach and blogger for UnStuck (www.unstucks.com), her family coaching service aimed at helping families develop positive habits and breaking the cycle of generational trauma and poverty.

Her education is in early and elementary education, and she also has a masters degree in parenting and child/adolescent development. Brandy is a wife to her high school sweetheart of fifteen years, and together they share three children, aged ten, seven, and five. In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, writing, and distance running.

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