The One Phrase a Child Psychologist Wishes You Would Stop Saying
We’ve all been there: Our child lashes out, throws a tantrum or seems to purposefully defy us (like when they hit their sibling) and we hear this commonly used phrase roll off our tongue: “That makes mommy sad!”
Alternate versions: “You’re making mommy sad!” or “That hurts daddy’s feelings when you do that.” Whichever way you phrase it, the result is that you’re basically telling your child that their actions have the ability to make us feel bad or sad and that their feelings—large or small—need to be quashed in service of someone else’s.
Worse, the underlying (and fully absorbable) message that our kids can pick up on is that we, as individuals, aren’t in control of our own happiness. (Yes, others can make us feel up and down, but how we react is our choice.)
Of course, if you’ve uttered this phrase already, don’t beat yourself up. In a recent Instagram post on the topic, Dr. Becky Kennedy, a child psychologist and author of Good Inside, explains that often times it’s employed as a way to try and force empathy on our kids. After all, we want so desperately for them to understand that their actions have an impact on others.
But if we take this approach—where we make them responsible for our feelings—it’s a form of shaming and can increase co-dependency if our kids start to feel like their actions directly correlate to our joy.
After all, emotions are big and, especially for young kids, can feel untenable. (That’s why it can be so hard to reason with any child mid-tantrum.) A better approach in those moments is to simply demonstrate empathy. Acknowledge your child’s feelings beneath the misbehavior (“I see you’re having a hard time” or “You’re upset, and I see that”) and set a boundary if you have to (“mommy is going to pick you up and move you across the room if you can’t stop hitting your sibling”). But also understand that empathy takes time to learn and absorb. It’s a continual practice—but a worthwhile one.