Things not to say to kids: “Don’t be silly”

by Adina Levy

Things not to say to kids, that I’ve heard (and almost said myself, recently!): “Don’t be silly”

Children (everyone) need their emotions validated to develop emotional ‘literacy’, and confidence that their own experience is valid. If a child appears to be ‘fussy’, that is never the whole story. There’s a deeper reason behind their ‘fussiness’.

For neurodivergent children, this is often an uncomfortable sensory experience that may be invisible to others.

It may be a mismatch in understanding of what’s happening, the child’s expectations, and the expectations of the world around them.

It may be because of difficulties navigating social dynamics.

‘Fussiness’ may be due a growing pile of sensory, social, cognitive, emotional challenges, confusion, expectations, and more.

When you say “don’t be silly” to a child who is having a hard time meeting expectations like:

  • putting on socks
  • getting into the car
  • having their hair brushed
  • coping when another kid wrecks the thing they were building…

You’re saying to them “your experience and perspective doesn’t matter”.

What to do instead?

Seek to understand the deep reasons behind the child’s reluctance or inability to meet your expectations.

Let them know you understand them and accept that something is hard for them.

Work WITH the child to find a solution and plan that meets their needs, blending that with the needs of others around them.

Reflection to ask yourself: How can you dial up the understanding and acceptance, when a child has difficulty meeting your expectations?

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