Sook: do you call your child this? What does it really mean? We need to examine our language

The word sook is an interesting one. It is used at times when a child is upset in countries such as Australia and New Zealand. We hear it in different ways but some common ones are:

‘Don’t be a sook’

‘You’re a sooky la la’

’If you sook, you won’t be able to …. ‘

’Stop sooking’

What does this word really mean? A similar word you may also hear is ‘crybaby’, We often think of these types of words as harmless. The definition of ‘sook’ as defined by, is “a timid, cowardly person, especially a young child; crybaby”. Timid? Cowardly? Are these words we can use to actually describe a young child?

Let’s break it down. Timid is defined as “showing a lack of courage or confidence; easily frightened” ( Are children meant to be courageous? Are they meant to be confident in what they do? They are kids! They are learning about the world… they need love and guidance. We are their teachers! Of course, they are frightened more often than adults because the world can be scary place to a little person.

Children are easily frightened and we are their safe place. If we call them a sook, we are actually telling them that they really need to toughen up. Kids don’t understand this. They don’t need to. How could they? This goes against logic, fostering strong attachments and developing emotional resilience.

People who use the word sook often, need to explore more gentle ways to deal with an upset child. We need to really think about the words we use because it can cause more harm than good. If we call them a sook, we are saying that it is not ok to show the way you feel. As kids can’t control their emotions very well, we are setting them up for failure if these types of words are used consistently in their life. They can become confused resulting in a lack of confidence and ability to regulate their emotions later in life.

Most people may not be aware of how some ‘innocent’ words may have an effect on young children. It is never too late to learn and improve ways to help our beautiful young children flourish. Parents love their kids and want the best for them so therefore we learn new ways to help them grow.

So, if your child comes to you and is upset and not easily soothed, there are a number of ways you can deal with this.

Strategies to help nurture emotional intelligence and let go of unhelpful labels

Depending on their age, you can ask them what’s wrong. You can say it back to them and validate what they have said. If they can’t tell you, try and put it into words and gestures for them. Below are some strategies to help you and your children through these tough times.

  • The first thing is always try and stay calm. I know this is hard to do at times especially when something in you is triggered, but try and take some deep breaths or count to five before reacting. You are teaching them how to react in these situations. If you call them a sook or similar names, they may be less capable of showing emotional regulation later in life because they may think they are ‘weak’ and lack the self-confidence to express themselves.


  • Be at the child’s level and maintain eye contact. It can be very frightening to a child to stand over them. They think we are very big!


  • Think about what has been happening for them recently. Have you moved house? Started back at work? Had a late night? Has the child been unwell? Many things have an impact on how a child will react emotionally.


  • Look at it from the child’s point of view. Remember that they are not upset to hurt you, get back at you or manipulate you. They love you and have no comprehension of this. They need your love and understanding to learn to regulate their emotions and calm down.


  • Think about how you would like to be treated if you were the child. Would you like a hug? Would you like kind soft words?


  • When they are upset, try explaining to them why they are upset. For example, ‘you are upset because you fell over in the garden’. Giving them the words to express themselves will help them in the future.


I hope this helps you to understand the impact that consistently used negative words (that we think are harmless) can have on children. We can take a look at the situation from a child’s perspective and change the way we respond to promote emotional intelligence and resilience.


Further information resources:

Guilt in Motherhood: a mother’s perspective

Motherhood – Journey of the Unknown


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