Your toddler has been glued to her tablet for the last hour and even though you gave her plenty of warning, she has a total meltdown when you switch off Paw Patrol. Or perhaps your two kids are playing together and the eldest smacks the youngest; when you go over to investigate, your oldest starts uncontrollably sobbing, drowning out the tears of the injured party. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? If so, you’re probably also familiar with the feeling of your blood pressure rising and being unable to stop yourself blurting out, “That’s enough! Stop crying!”
What Not to Say
We get it—the urge to get your kid to just “snap out of it” is real (especially when you suspect they aren’t even real tears to begin with). But “stop crying” is a common phrase that child psychologists agree is particularly problematic—namely because it comes from a place of intolerance.
According to psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Becky, parents often make the mistake of rushing to judgment and labeling a child’s display of emotion as fake. When you fall into this trap, you might suspect your child of using tears to manipulate you; or you might think the child is simply being too dramatic and overreacting. (Guilty as charged.) That’s when the therapist says it’s time to reframe your thinking and realize that you are not actually the authority on your child’s emotional reality.
“Every human is looking to feel seen…and when we don’t, we all have to escalate our expressions, desperate to be taken seriously so we feel real and worthy inside,” writes Dr. Becky. As such, telling your kid to ‘stop crying’ is likely to backfire—namely because it starts a vicious cycle in which the child feels the need to cry and scream even more in order to be seen, then gets written off for being too dramatic…and so on and so forth.
What to Say Instead
The next time you feel the urge to tell your offspring to suck it up, Dr. Becky recommends using a mantra to help you calm down and enter your child’s world instead of judging it from the outside. So, the next time your kid turns on the waterworks and you feel yourself getting frustrated, take a deep breathe and tell yourself: “It’s always OK to feel. It’s always OK to cry. No one but me knows what’s going on inside me.”
Once that’s done, you should be better able to make room for the very real expression of emotion you’re witnessing, and meaningfully connect in a way that helps your dysregulated child feel more stable. Need some help in that department? Check out some of the phrases below.
Here are a few phrases that you could use instead:
- “This is really hard for you.”
- “I’m here with you.”
- “Something doesn’t feel good right now.”
- “That was really scary. I’m here.”
- “Tell me about it. I’m listening.”
- “I know, this doesn’t seem fair.”
- “I can see that you’re upset. I’m going to move you over here to keep your sister safe.”