Key phrases to avoid at Christmas to keep your kids happy, according to family psychotherapist

As Christmas gets closer and closer, it can be tempting as a parent to use Santa and the promise of gifts to keep excitable children in line. However, using presents and treats as leverage, or telling them Father Christmas won't come if they misbehave in the run-up to the big day has been discouraged.

In fact, one behaviour expert believes that this is a serious mistake and that it may make things much worse. Fiona Yassin, a family psychotherapist, has advised parents to be cautious of the words they use with their children in the run-up to and during Christmas.

She explained that there are a number of problematic phrases that parents and caregivers use that can sap the joy from the festive season for children. Fiona, the founder and clinical director of The Wave Clinic, has revealed three phrases to avoid in order to prevent your children from acting out.

1. "Santa will put you on the naughty list if you don't behave"

A classic saying every parent has probably used at least once, however, Fiona believes it could have a detrimental impact. She says: "Santa's naughty and nice list can be anxiety-inducing for children, especially for those with existing mental health challenges."

"Parents can be tempted to ward off bad behaviour with the threat of the naughty list. However, rewarding 'good' behaviour with presents and 'bad' behaviour with punishment can teach children and teenagers that they are less worthy when they are bad."

"Consciously and unconsciously, young people believe they are good when they do good, or bad when they do bad things. To the young person, this may feel like their truth unless the parent or caregiver is continually reminding them they are unconditionally loved."

2. "I deserve another helping of…"

We all like to indulge on Christmas Day but Fiona believes saying this type of thing around impressionable children can be dangerous. She said: "When someone talks about food in the sense of 'deserving' it, it links to the idea that we must earn the right to eat or earn the right to have pleasure."

"Assigning a moral value to food can trigger negative thoughts and behaviour patterns in young people. Similarly, you may hear people say, 'I was so bad for eating xyz'. This combines what you eat with who you are as a person and implies there is shame in having eaten something."

"Using phrases like this at the Christmas dinner table promotes harmful eating mindsets and can cause young people, and others around you, to have unnecessary concerns about food."

3. "If we buy you that present, we can't afford to pay the bills"

Fiona, a child expert, warns parents about certain phrases that can cause anxiety in children. "Sometimes parents use a phrase like this to try and make their child understand they don't have much money or they are in a tricky financial situation," she explains.

"This Christmas, families will feel extra-stretched with the cost of living crisis but the truth is, children (especially young children), don't understand finances and neither should we expect them to." She adds that positioning gift-giving in this way can confuse and worry kids.

4. “Your mum/ dad didn’t get me a Christmas present”

Christmas can be stressful, especially if there's conflict within the family. Fiona says it can be anxiety-inducing for children to hear or see that gifts have not been exchanged between parents.

5. “Give grandma a kiss”

A controversial topic Fiona feels strongly about is forcing children to show affection. "When a child is forced to hug, kiss or show affection, it takes away their agency and choice." She believes this sends a dangerous message to children that they are not in control of their own bodies.

Finally, Fiona reassures parents not to fret if they've used any of these phrases before. She concluded: "This is not about beating yourself up for what you've said to your child in the past, this is about recognising that some phrases do more harm than good and adjusting what you say will help to prevent your child from developing negative feelings including anxiety, guilt and shame."

* This article was crafted with the help of an AI engine, which speeds up OK!'s editorial research and applies it to article templates created by journalists in our newsrooms. An OK! editor reviewed this content before it was published. You can report any errors to [email protected]

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