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3 Reasons You Should Never Use the D-Word With Your Child of Any Age

No matter who you are, no matter where you go, no matter what happens or how old or young your children are, please never, ever use the D-word with them.

You may think I’m talking about “divorce,” but I am not at all. I am talking about the word “drama.”

For parents — and I know this personally, not just professionally because I am a parent myself, our children’s feelings can be very intense.  Whether your child is a toddler or fully grown, it is very important for you to not only know this but to also understand why.

Our children’s feelings can seem downright wacky and over the top at times. They can bowl us over, they can put us in embarrassing, frustrating situations, they can make us feel helpless, they can delay us, and they can be very annoying.

In short, our children’s feelings can seem quite dramatic.

This is especially true when there is a tantrum going on. What is a parent to do in this situation? Ignore your child until it’s over? Step in and try to soothe an angry, tantruming kid or teen? Threaten your child with a consequence if she does not calm down? These are all strategies that most parents try at different times.

Sometimes these strategies can seem to work, and other times they may make the situation worse.

It’s not only small children whose feelings can be so strong. Teens and young adults, and even, let’s face it, fully mature adults, can show their own versions of intense and overwhelming emotions. When it happens it can be very painful and difficult for parents to deal with.

Now, here is a fact about how emotions/feelings work that is so important that it’s actually difficult to grasp how very important it is.

The Most Significant Fact About Emotions

  • Emotions that are ignored, denied, misunderstood, demeaned, or punished only get stronger and more powerful.

This fact is true for infants, toddlers, tweens, teens, young adults, middle-aged adults, and elders. It is an inescapable part of the human condition.

So what does this mean for parents? It means that it’s important to try your very best to avoid ignoring, denying, misunderstanding, demeaning or punishing your child’s feelings. Not only because all of these are different facets of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN, but also because any time you do so you are only making them feel more of whatever they are feeling

And that includes, of course, referring to your child of any age as “dramatic” or labeling his feelings “drama.”

Even if the strong feelings seem to go away in the moment, it is probably a result of your child having been shamed for having them. So they are only going underground to simmer and boil and will come out at a later time, perhaps seemingly about something else. Calling your child’s feelings “drama” only makes those feelings appear even more like “drama.”

So the very act of labeling feelings as drama actually helps create apparent drama. I am sure you can see that this is not at all fair to your child. And it does not help you either. Indeed, it is a sign of active Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

What does this not mean for parents? It does not mean that you need to overly attend to your children’s feelings. You need not dote, pacify or placate your child’s feelings. Nor do you need to try to smooth your child’s path ahead of his footsteps to prevent him from getting upset. This would not teach your child the emotion skills she needs for a lifetime.

Another Important Reason to Never Use the D-Word With Your Child

  • When you refer to your child’s feelings as dramatic, you can be sure that you are missing an amazing opportunity.

Parents naturally think of their children’s intense feelings as an inconvenience and an annoyance. But these times actually offer you a chance to teach your child, no matter his age, how to name, understand, and use his feelings.

It’s called emotional intelligence. It has been shown by research to be a significant factor in home and work success and life satisfaction.

Your child was born with emotions for a reason. Her feelings are built into her brain to literally inform, guide, inspire, energize and connect her. She will able to use this amazing inner resource to her advantage for her entire life if you seize these opportunities to teach her how to do it.

3 Steps to Teach Your Child About Emotions

  1. Name: Help your child put a name on what she is feeling. Never be too assuming or insistent with this. Think of it as helping her name her feelings. If you want to get better at naming feelings yourself, use the Emotions List in the back of the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect (link below). Use those words to describe your own feelings when you can, and try to use finesse when helping your child.
  2. Validate: Let your child know that his feelings matter to you and that you understand what he is feeling and why. This does not require that you agree with his feelings; only that you understand them. When you validate your child’s emotions you are validating the deepest expression of himself. You are validating him.
  3. Communicate: Talk as freely as you can about feelings in general. “You feel sad today? Maybe it’s because granddad is sick. Do you think that could be it?” Talking with your child about what she feels and why she feels it teaches her some key life skills: that talking about feelings is not awkward, that emotions matter, and that they carry important messages from our bodies. Emotional communication like this is the exact opposite of Emotional Neglect. And it’s the building block for emotional intelligence.

Name. Validate. Communicate. Then do it again the next day, and the next. Feelings are important, but they should not run our lives. We put them in their place by naming and discussing them.

And when we do so, we instill in our children, no matter their age, a vital message that is the opposite of the messages of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): You are a legitimate, valid human being. You matter.

Do you question whether you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect? Find out by taking the free Emotional Neglect Test on (link below). To learn much more about how to be an emotionally validating parent see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parent & Your Children (link below).

Related article you may find helpful: Raised By Parents With Low Emotional Intelligence.

3 Reasons You Should Never Use the D-Word With Your Child of Any Age

Jonice Webb PhD

Jonice Webb, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who is recognized worldwide for her groundbreaking work in defining, describing, and calling attention to Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). She writes, speaks, and trains therapists on the topic, and is the bestselling author of two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. She also created and runs the Fuel Up For Life Online CEN Recovery Program. Since CEN can be difficult to see and remember, Dr. Webb created the CEN Questionnaire and other free resources to help you figure out if you have it. Take the CEN Questionnaire and learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how to heal it at her website

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APA Reference
Webb PhD, J. (2019). 3 Reasons You Should Never Use the D-Word With Your Child of Any Age. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Sep 2019
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