Have you ever seen those pictures on the internet titled “Reasons My Kid is Crying?” It’s a hilarious series of pictures of toddlers and young children having tantrums over the most ridiculous things such as “I wouldn’t let her eat raw eggs,” or “I told him he couldn’t drink my beer.”
Parenting a toddler is basically taking a walk through a minefield and waiting for the next explosion. As parents we have to be able to find some humor in the reasons our kids are crying, because otherwise we might literally go crazy. But at the end of the day, parents are always looking for the same thing: how to help our children recover from their meltdowns and build resilience over time.
Toddlers and young children lack the language, impulse control, and self-regulation skills to keep themselves calm and collected. Instead we see them whining and tantruming whenever they experience strong emotions or become overstimulated.
In our frustration and exhaustion we may resort to saying (or yelling) “Stop crying!” to our flailing little ones.
This phrase is not only not effective, but it also sends the message that it’s not okay to cry – it’s not okay to express their emotions. Here are 10 positive parenting phrases that you can use to help your child through their difficult moments:
“I hear you”
When it is said gently, this simple phrase communicates so much: I see that you are hurting. I know that you are having some big emotions that you can’t sort out yet. It gives the child comfort knowing that you are tuning into them instead of trying to shut them down.
“You wanted _____”
Communicating back to the child what they wanted helps them to learn to articulate their feelings. “You wanted a cookie, but I said no. You really wanted to have a turn with your sister’s bear.” So much of the time, your child just wants to be understood. Simply repeating back what they had wanted gives them peace in knowing that you understand and empathize with them.
“It’s ok to be sad”
Life is all about learning to navigate difficult emotions, and your child needs to know that it’s perfectly normal to experience these highs and lows. This phrase communicates that you are not going to change your mind or even try to fix things for them, but that it’s okay to feel sad about it.
“It doesn’t feel fair”
Try to look at the situation from your child’s point of view. Little one’s don’t understand why they can’t have certain things, and so it feels very unfair to be told “no” all the time. It’s important for us to acknowledge that feeling of unfairness, and follow up by explaining your reasoning. For example: “It doesn’t feel fair that I said you can’t have a snack. I know you really want one. But I want your tummy to be hungry for the good food we are having for dinner.”
“That was disappointing”
Giving disappointment a name is very empowering for young children. When something disappointing happens to your child, saying “Stop crying” communicates that it isn’t important. But giving their feelings a name helps them own it, and move on more quickly.
“I can help you”
When children are in the middle of a meltdown, it feels like their entire world is crashing around them. They are spiraling downward and they don’t know how to stop. If your child is starting to hurt themselves or others while they are tantruming, this phrase is especially important. You can say: “I’m going to help you to stop throwing toys,” or of they are in danger of hitting their head on the floor you can say, “I’m going to help you so that you don’t hurt yourself.” Reminding them that you are there to help is reassuring and it helps their brains return back to a calm and regulated state.
“Let’s solve this problem together”
If you are faced with a situation that doesn’t have a clear-cut answer (for example, your child is getting frustrated over not being able to put on his own shoes), you can invite him to be a problem-solver by asking “How can we solve this problem?” This stimulates his brain in a different way and instead of focusing on the frustration, he can start to think of solutions. This is especially helpful for 3-5 year olds who have more of a capability of slowing down and thinking about their actions.
“I’m going to take some deep breaths”
Children naturally copy a lot of our behaviors, so try demonstrating a calm down strategy like taking deep breaths. Your child will probably try this out as well, and then you can use it again in the future by reminding them how well it worked to help them feel calm. This strategy also shows your child that even adults need to practice calming down sometimes.
“I’m here when you need me”
Children often resist help during times when they are angry, upset or frustrated. They may yell at you or try to move away. But once when they calm down, they usually look for comfort. Saying “I’m here when you need me” is a simple way of giving them the space they need to cool down while also being available to help them pick up the pieces when it’s over.
“Tell me more about your idea”
Just giving your child an opportunity to talk about their idea of how they wanted something to be is helpful for them. You can say “I hear that you your idea was watching a movie for bed…. We are not going to do that tonight but we can save that idea for another night soon.” It’s incredibly validating for children to know that you’ve heard their idea, even if the answer is “no.”