You get what you get, and you don’t get upset! This phrase is repeated in many childcare situations and amongst children themselves.  It is based upon a book and a song –

I understand the motive behind this phrase.  Picture this situation: there are ten popsicles of various colours, the teacher cannot tell which colour is which and she  hands them out randomly to the children.  Some of the children get the colour popsicle they want, and others do not.  Some children complain.  The teacher then says, “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset.”  The children who did not get the coloured popsicle they wanted may not complain.  The teacher is happy.  The child goes on his/her way with the popsicle.  A win-win!


It is true that there are not always choices in life.  The teacher may not be able to give each child the coloured popsicle they desire as there is only a certain number of each colour, and someone has to take the boring orange one!  However, let’s look at this phrase a bit closer.

“You get what you get”.  Well, that seems true.  You don’t always have choices and you don’t always get what you want.  But, listen to the tone of this.  Is this something you would say to anyone but a child (“sorry ma’am we have no latte’s left, you get what you get!”)  Is this phrase helpful for the child?  Is it a kind thing to say?  Is it something you wish the child to repeat?  (“Sorry mom, I didn’t do all the dishes but hey, you get what you get”).  What is the child learning when you say this phrase?  In order to determine whether this phrase is useful for the child, you need to look at those questions.

Don’t get me wrong.  Teachers do not have to ask every child what coloured popsicle they wish.  Teachers do not have to make every child happy every time.  However, what if the teacher said, “I’m sorry you did not get the colour of popsicle you wanted, you must feel sad.”  End of statement.  There really is nothing else to be said.  Is the teacher sorry?  Probably.  Is there some solution?  Maybe, if we are creative enough.  Will the child be happy?  Probably not, but their feelings have been validated, and the teacher is being kind.  And, it is something the child can repeat.  It opens the door for exploration.  It opens communication between child and teacher.  The child can respond by being upset, or they can come up with a different solution (Johnny gets ½ a purple and ½ an orange because Sally shared) or they can go on their way with the undesired coloured popsicle and have their emotions.

Let’s explore the other half of the phrase: “and you don’t get upset.”  Wrong.  The child is probably already upset.  The only thing you have done is let it be known that it is not okay to be upset.  Have you ever stopped being upset by someone telling you not to be upset?  Saying “you don’t get upset” does two things:  1. It tells the child there is something to get upset about and 2.  It tells the child they are not allowed their feelings.   The child may or may not be upset – maybe they are angry, sad, frustrated, or confused.  And telling them not to get upset opens the doorway to disregarding all types of feelings.

Here’s an example from a real-life situation.  I was doing an art project with 8 children ages 3-5.  I had 8 glue sticks, some went on clear and some went on purple.  After gluing some pieces down and noticing hers went on clear, a child stated “I want a purple one.”  I replied “Oh, it looks like we’ve run out of purple.”  The child says, “I want a purple one!”  I replied “I’m sorry but there’s no purple ones left.  You sound upset. Your choice is to either use the one you have or wait for someone to be finished with the purple one.  What do you think?”   Child responded by ripping off all the pictures and scrunching the art work in a ball. 

So, what happened?  I told the child the situation (we have no purple ones left) said “I’m sorry” (because I was sorry that I didn’t have enough purple ones), validated their feelings (“you must be sad”)  and gave the child a choice (“either use that one or wait for someone to be finished with theirs”).  The child responded by not finishing the art – their choice.  But they made the choice.  I did not negate their feelings or their actions (it is their art work to do with what they please).

What if I said, “you get what you get and you don’t get upset.”  Would the child have stopped being upset?  Probably not.  Would it help them work through their emotions?  Probably not.  Would it give them any choices or possible solutions? No.

You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.

A phrase with perhaps a good motive but overall, not recommended.

Some people say it will instill a sense of gratitude. I disagree, but that is a topic for a later date.

Mary Stanwood

Categories: Uncategorized

1 Comment

Rachel · August 31, 2022 at 5:18 pm

I was trying to come up with words to go with the gut feeling I have about this phrase and I found your post. We cannot shut down children’s’ emotions. I also appreciate you point about validating, and that validating the emotion does not automatically make the situation better or make the child feel better. As a parent and teacher it is hard to let a child scrunch up their ‘hard work’ but that is important too, to allow them to do what they want to with their art.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *