Raising children is hard, and understanding your child’s wants and needs can be even more difficult. As a parent, it’s important to know how you can talk to your child in a way that meets them halfway there so you can navigate your child’s intense emotions and make it out to the other side for the better.
Psychologist Dr. Jazmine McCoy, who specializes in advice for parents, recently shared an Instagram post in which she said, “Navigating our children’s intense emotions can sometimes feel like we’re walking on eggshells. Here’s what to avoid saying to an angry child and why.”
5 Things To Stop Saying To Your Child When They’re Mad and What to Say Instead
1. “Take a deep breath.”
We’ve all been told, “You just need to calm down” when we were feeling the opposite of calm, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say that is so frustrating! Unfortunately, telling your child to breathe is the equivalent of uttering that phrase.
McCoy writes, “No one likes to feel controlled especially when they’re already experiencing an intense emotion.” And yes, your child is included in this.
So, how are we supposed to help our child self-regulate?
According to the Child Mind Institute, “Self-regulation is a skill that children need to be taught and practice.”
When you command your child to calm down and take a deep breath, you are expecting them to process things outside of their developmental stage. So, instead, try showing them. Break your activity down into smaller parts, writes Child Mind Institute. Encourage your child to take it easy and reflect on how they are feeling.
And remember, “respond with positive feedback and rewards when they do it,” writes Child Mind Institute.
What to say instead: “We’re having a tough moment right now. I’m going to take a deep breath to help my body calm down.”
2. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you acting like that?”
It can be frustrating when your child begins to act up. But the worst thing you can do during these moments is to question their actions.
As McCoy writes, “These types of questions don’t lead to a solution and often induce shame, disconnection, and defensiveness.”
It’s also important to understand that your child isn’t mature enough to reflect on their choices and underlying issues. So, what can you do instead?
What to say instead: “Wow, you’re upset about this. When you’re ready, I’d love to hear more about what’s going on for you and what you need.”
This not only allows your child time to process their emotions, but it also leaves them with a sense of control — which is important for emotional-regulation.
3. “You’re overreacting/being too sensitive!”
We probably heard this phrase at some point in our life. And to be honest, being told we are overreacting never feels good, especially if you’re a child.
McCoy states, “While it’s often tempting to try to correct their responses to things, it’s not what they need to hear at the moment, and it only adds fuel to their fire.”
What to do instead: Parental coach Oona Alexander offers some solutions, saying to first express understanding.
She writes, “Get curious — get interested in how this whole situation might look to them, even if it seems minor and trivial to your eyes because if they’re reacting to that, it’s not trivial to them.”
Alexander also suggests creating a safe space for your child to vent. As well as offering alternative solutions for your child to healthily express their anger. For example say, “Instead of hitting this chair, why don’t we try stacking these blocks together? This will not only help them divert their attention but also help to quell their anger in the long run.
4. “If you keep this up, no TV or dessert for you!!”
Ah — the old ultimatums.
As parents, we may use these ultimatums to help diffuse a situation, but in reality, it may be making things a whole lot worse.
What to do instead: When it comes to consequences, there are a few factors to consider.
According to McCoy “Consequences are best when they’re planned ahead of time, communicated in advance to your child, not done given in anger, and aligned with your child’s age and developmental stage.
5. “Don’t be upset! Look on the bright side!”
Although saying, “Look on the bright side,” may seem positive at first, when upset it can feel dismissive and downright infuriating for a child. And as parents, we have to understand that their emotional brain is the one in charge during fits of anger.
So, phrases such as this just won’t cut it. Sometimes the best thing you can do to teach your kid to mellow down, is by giving them their space, writes McCoy.
What to do instead: According to Action For Healthy Kids, this can be accomplished by creating a calm-down corner.
For those who don’t know, a calm-down corner is a space in the home where your child can go to calm down. In this designated corner, place some comforting objects and materials that encourage reflection and mindfulness, writes Action For Healthy Kids.
They continue, “The overall goal of a calm down corner is to provide the child with a space in which they’ll feel safe recognizing and regulating their emotions in a healthy way.”
Finally, children need to feel that both their emotions and thoughts are being heard.
But it’s far too often that children go throughout life feeling uncared for and unseen. And now more than ever it’s especially important for parents to help their child feel at ease. According to LinkedIn, “A survey by the CDC published in February 2023 found that in 2021, 44% of high school students reported experiencing ‘persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year.”
Though this may not seem important for some, happier children tend to be more successful and are better at navigating challenges in their environment, writes LinkedIn.
So, by practicing and incorporating these habits, you will slowly but surely see a change in both your child’s communication and temperament.
Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor’s degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics.