The one thing you should NEVER say to comfort a hurt child

The one thing you should NEVER say to comfort a hurt child

“YOU’RE OKAY.” During my son’s first year of life, I said this phrase several times a day. Most other parents used it, and it made sense: “It’s all in how you react,” they’d say. “If you act like he’s okay, then he’ll think he’s okay.”

This logic is not entirely flawed. When Junior fusses for the umpteenth time (today) about getting his diaper changed, you can reassure him that he’s okay.

But for other “dramatic” events in the life of a lil’ one: falls, hurt feelings over unshared toys, etc, “It’s okay” is just…well, not okay. Keep in mind the 3 D’s:

1) Don’t dismiss.

Tracy Hogg warns, “Don’t say ‘You’re okay’ or ‘That didn’t hurt.’ It’s not respectful to negate his feelings.”

Put it in perspective of an adult relationship you have. You knick your finger chopping up vegetables for dinner. “Ouch,” you say. “That really hurt.” Your husband doesn’t even look and says, “Oh, you’re okay. C’mon, you’ll be fine.”

Truth be told, yeah, you will be fine. But it’s nice to have someone show concern. My favorite phrase is “What happened?” Simple and to the point. And, coincidentally, when I ask lil’ man what happened, talking through it takes his focus on his hurt to the why of his hurt. It’s hard to sob and talk at the same time, and he usually stops crying to fill me in.

2) Don’t delay.

When he was younger and not able to talk yet, I’d model the conversation out loud. “What happened? Oh, it looks like you tripped over the book. It hurts when we fall down. Let’s put the book back so we don’t trip again.”

As he got older, he’d summarize and point at the floor: “Fall down. Book.”

And now, my child never falls…

…alright, that’s not true. The point is, just because our child doesn’t talk to us yet doesn’t mean that we don’t talk to him. If we waited until our kids spoke to start explaining cause and effect, there would be a lot of missed opportunities for teachable moments.

3) Don’t distract.

“The problem with the ‘let’s go get some ice cream’ approach is that it leaves the child confused about what happened and why. He is still full of big and scary emotions, and he isn’t allowed (or helped) to deal with them in an effective way,” say Siegel and Bryson.

Two days before the 2nd birthday party, we faced the ice cream conundrum when Logan fell, hit his head, and left a bloody gash above his left eye. (And it really was a conundrum, as the park was right across the street from Black Dog Gelato.) I decided against distracting. With blood streaming down his face and onto his crab swim shirt, I held him and asked, “What happened?”

“I run atta park. I fall down. I bump head…airplane.” Yup, that pretty much sums it up.

Over the course of the next week, people would ask me what happened, and I would have him answer. He was not only hearing the story; he was narrating his story.

Painful as it is for us parents, our children need to make mistakes. Experience is the best way to learn. Our job isn’t to prevent the pain or pretend it doesn’t exist. Our purpose is to guide them through the pain so that they know how to deal with it before, during, and after.

In the end, we’re all okay. It just depends on how you want to get there.

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Filed under: Parenting

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