“Big Boys Don’t Cry” and Other Verbal Blunders

"Big Boys Don't Cry" and Other Verbal Blunders

Scenario: you’ve been to a business gathering, party, or dinner with people you’ve never met or don’t know well. Now it’s midnight and you’re staring at the ceiling, going over some verbal blunder. You regret the words you said or the response you received. Maybe you come to some conclusions—what to say next time you meet this person. Maybe you even compose an email or a phone message in your mind. Finally, you just pound your pillow and give up. The words were said. Get some sleep.


Why do we attach importance to this? The person is probably oblivious to our concerns. Does the fact that this was said to an adult color our reaction? And yet there are exchanges we should be monitoring, considering and being very concerned about.

Those are the words, the statements, the things we say when we are angry, tired or stressed—TO OUR CHILDREN and our GRANDCHILDREN.


Lauren Murphy Payne, M.S.W., is a psychotherapist in family practice. In her book, Just Because I Am, A Child’s Book of Affirmation, she offers examples of poor responses that many of us will have to own. The good news: she also cites alternatives which again many of us can say we use. Because we all want to be good parents and grandparents and to never exacerbate a situation. We all want to be healers, not hurters. Check out the following examples.

The child makes a mistake. Adult responses: What’s wrong with you?   Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?   Don’t you know anything?   Why can’t you do it right? 

Alternative responses: What can you learn from that? How can you do that differently the next time? What else can you try? How can I help you? And probably the best response: Don’t worry, I make mistakes too. 

The grandchild is angry. Adult responses: You shouldn’t feel that way.   You have nothing to be angry about.   You don’t know what real problems are.   What are you getting so upset about? 

Alternative responses as the child has a right to feel what they feel: I’m so glad you can tell me how you feel. Everyone gets angry some time. Wow, you are feeling really frustrated. 

The child is sad or crying. Adult responses: Stop or I’ll give you something to cry about. You’ve got nothing to cry about.   Now be a good girl and stop crying.   Big boys don’t cry. 

Alternative responses: You’re feeling really sad right now.   It’s okay to cry.   I know how sadness feels.   It’s important to listen to your sadness.   I get sad too sometimes.

Payne’s book also offers ideas for making your grandchildren feel safe and secure and for finding ways to say “yes” to children when they need a positive response after being told “no.” Because sometimes we should and need to say “no.”


But there is a scenario where what we say to an adult can be even more confusing and complicated. It happens when a friend or acquaintance is sick, hospitalized, dealing with a serious illness. What to say? How to avoid those verbal blunders???

In a recent article in Blue prepared by Wellmark Blue Cross, six statements to avoid are examined. Though these words might easily fall from our lips, it’s how the sick person receives them and interprets them that really matters.

1. You suggest to this person that you know about a supplement that might help. Though this is thoughtful, he might hear that you don’t think he’s making the right decisions regarding treatment. He also might hear you are challenging his medical team–and that’s challenging his trust.

2. “You look great.” She probably feels awful. Are you saying that she’s really not that sick?

3. “Bad things happen to everyone…You’ll be okay…” He might think you are saying his illness isn’t that serious or that he’s complaining as we all have challenges.

4. “Don’t give up. You have to stay positive.” Does she think you feel she isn’t trying hard enough? Maybe it’s his time and you are challenging that.

5. “My friend (co-worker etc) had this illness and he tried this treatment…” She might think you feel this illness is no big deal and that she’s not doing everything she can to beat it.

6. “Look on the bright side–at least you don’t have to go to work every day.” You are actually saying that his or her worries about pain and medication and medical bills and life or death are not valid or important. When people are really sick, they crave going back to a normal, boring life.

Here are some words to keep in mind when you are in this situation:

I’m not sure what to say, but I care about you and I’m here to support you.

I’m sorry this is happening to you. I care about you.

Do you want to talk about this? I’m here to listen.

If you need to cry, count on me to be there for you. I’ll bring the tissues.

I love you and I’ll help you through all of this the best I can. 

Words are powerful things. Sometimes we just need to be very careful when we choose them. I know I’ve had my share of verbal blunders. Have you?

Thanks to Google Images


4 thoughts on ““Big Boys Don’t Cry” and Other Verbal Blunders

  1. Funerals are always difficult moments for all involved. Sometimes just a word of sympathy and a simple touch of one’s hand can let someone know you are there and praying for all of those touched by the death…..

    • Thanks for thinking of that situation, Bill. Yes, I know I blundered once at a funeral, asking the age of the parent and then saying something about how he lead a go long life. The son was not pleased. Losing a
      parent at any time can be heart-breaking. Beth

  2. Great blog – in addition to what we say to children directly I think it also is extremely important what we say in there presence because they are always listening to conversations between adults. Unfortunately this is not used as a positive learning experience, how to behave, for children as much as it is about how not to behave.

    • Yes, how not to behave is stressed more than the positive way to live in the world. That’s why everything we do and say is so important as we are influencing these tiny sponges. We make jokes about kid’s using bad words, but it’s really not very funny. It’s confusing to them. I remember hearing the F-word for the first time in high school. Used by a friend of mine in a joke. I had NO IDEA what she was talking about. I say GOOD FOR ME. Beth

Comments are closed.