Child Psychologists Never (Or Rarely) Say These Phrases To Their Kids

Chances are you're probably using some of them.
Telling a kid to "use their words" is "an unfair request," clinical psychologist Martha Deiros Collado said.
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Telling a kid to "use their words" is "an unfair request," clinical psychologist Martha Deiros Collado said.

Child psychologists who are also parents have a distinct point of view on how to raise kids.

With years of professional and personal experience under their belts, they’ve learned what tends to work (and what tends not to) when talking to children.

To that end, we asked them what common phrases they personally avoid using with their own kids.

Please know that just because you might say these things from time to time, it doesn’t make you a cruel or crappy parent. But perhaps the experts’ point of view can help us all be a bit more mindful about how we communicate in our most important relationships.

Below, child psychologists explain what language they try to steer clear of and why.

1. ‘I’m disappointed in you’

Paediatric psychologist and parent coach Ann-Louise Lockhart of A New Day Pediatric Psychology told HuffPost she avoids this phrase with her kids for a couple of reasons. For one, hearing it “stings a bunch,” no matter how old you are, she said. And it can lead to some undesirable outcomes down the line.

When a parent says they’re disappointed in their kid, the child may start parent-pleasing and become hyper-aware of making mistakes “to avoid hearing these hurtful words again,” Lockhart said. This anxious and perfectionistic thinking can spill over into other areas of their life.

Alternatively, this idea that the kid is a disappointment may “become part of their identity so they do more disappointing things because they think, well, ‘That’s who I am,’” Lockhart added. “So a parent might notice more defiance or oppositional behavior, more sassiness and eye-rolling.”

2. ‘Calm down’

When you’re worked up about something, how does a loved one telling you to “calm down” make you feel? Likely, not great. Same goes for your kiddos. Being dismissive isn’t going to soothe them, and it may actually make matters worse.

Clinical psychologist Martha Deiros Collado, author of the forthcoming book How To Be The Grown-Up, 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 said. “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.”

When Deiros Collado has the urge to tell her kid to calm down, she uses it as a prompt to regulate her own emotions and bring some composure to the chaotic situation. Then she reminds herself that “after the storm has passed, my child will find her calm on her own.”

Clinical psychologist Cindy T. Graham, founder of Brighter Hope Wellness Center, said she avoids using this language with her kids because it isn’t particularly instructive. It doesn’t give them any guidance on how to manage their difficult emotions.

“Instead, 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,” Graham added.

3. ‘Use your words’

Well-meaning parents often use this phrase to encourage their child to verbalise their wants or emotions when the kid is whining, tantruming or grunting and gesturing.

Deiros Collado said she avoids asking her daughter to “use her words” because she knows that in these moments her child may not be capable of accessing them — “even though she has a wonderful vocabulary and is fully bilingual.”

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,” Deiros Collado said.

Instead, Deiros Collado models what she thinks her child is trying to say in simple terms and with the tone she’d like for her to use. For example, “You are hungry. You want mummy to please make you a snack?”

This tends to work well for them: “More often than not, she will repeat what I have said back to me appropriately. I know over time she will be more likely to access her words and the right tone of voice to ask for what she needs because she has been hearing me do it over and over again.”

4. ‘You’re so lazy’

Lockhart said she has strong feelings about this phrase and avoids it at all costs. When kids aren’t completing a task or chore, parents often assume it’s because the child is unwilling to do it. But it may be that they lack the skills to execute it, she said.

“Instead of calling them ‘lazy,’ I think it’s very important to teach, model and practice the task instead,” Lockhart said. “It’s important to find out what’s getting in the way of them completing the task and practice it over and over again. That’s how strong skills and healthy habits are built.”

5. ‘Stop crying’

As a parent, seeing your kid upset can make you feel distressed, too, so it’s natural to wish the wave of emotion would pass. Or perhaps you deem what they’re upset about — the wrong colour cup, a broken toy, a conflict with a classmate — to be “not worth crying over” from your adult vantage point.

Whatever the case may be, keep in mind that sadness, anger and frustration are all normal emotions. The release that comes with crying is “human and healthy,” Deiros Collado said. So she never says this to her child or anyone else — herself included.

“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 encourages her to let her tears out while reassuring her that it’s OK to do so.

“She is allowed to feel her emotions fully and deeply,” Deiros Collado said. “And when it’s time, they will pass and she will be safe.”

Kristin Loiselle Rich, a paediatric psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said that telling your child to stop crying “does not convey empathy” and can make it harder for children to open up about their feelings and problems with caregivers in the future.

“This can cause children to suppress feelings of sadness, which can lead to them withholding other emotions and contribute to anxiety or mood problems down the road,” Rich added.

6. ‘You better appreciate what I did for you’

Lockhart doesn’t demand gratitude from her own kids. She said that many children do, in fact, appreciate what their parents do for them. But they can also be “very self-centred and shortsighted” because, well, they’re kids.

“You cannot bottle up emotion that needs to be released. That doesn’t make anyone calm. It just makes an explosive outburst more likely.”

- Martha Deiros Collado, clinical psychologist

“They may lack the ability to take the perspective of another or demonstrate empathy,” Lockhart said. “They might be unable to process their thoughts and feelings in a way that’s clear and not overwhelming. Even if they’re able to do all of these things, they might not have the verbal capacity to express it out loud.”

Parents may need to adjust their expectations of what gratitude looks like from a child’s point of view.

“Placing this adult expectation on their child brain is quite unfair,” Lockhart added.

7. ‘That’s none of your business’

Graham tends not to use this phrase as “a matter of kindness,” she said, as she finds it “unnecessarily harsh.”

“It is just as easy to say, ‘I know you’d like to take part in this conversation, but I was talking to’ so-and-so,” she said.

And if you really don’t want your kids to jump into the conversation, then don’t have adult discussions around them, she added.

8. ‘Because I said so’

This oft-used parental retort is “pretty irritating,” Graham said, so she tries not to use it in her own life.

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

With her kids, 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 — e.g., ‘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.’”