When kids are upset, is it your instinct to tell them that they’re okay?
Whether a child (or anyone really) is physically or emotionally hurt, it is really important for you to recognize how they feel and validate that. Help them label how they’re feeling so they can learn to acknowledge what emotions they are feeling. Acknowledge that it is tough. Walk them through how they’re feeling, what made them feel that way, what happened after, etc.; They need to know that it’s okay not to feel okay – no matter how minor it is. It is up to you as a parent to teach them that.
What happens when kids are told they are feeling something that they actually aren’t?
It hinders their reality of how they’re feeling – in that moment and during future moments to come. As they grow up, they begin to question how they’re feeling. They deny how they’re feeling and push themselves through emotions that sometimes they shouldn’t ignore.
What would you tell an adult who is clearly upset or burning out, but is powering through because they keep telling themselves that they are okay even though they are not?
When you tell kids that they’re okay when they’re not feeling okay, they grow up to tell themselves that they’re okay when they’re not actually – in much bigger situations than just spilling their milk. Emotions and feelings are there for a reason, your body is meant to acknowledge them. Our role as parents is to help them not feel so overwhelmed by emotions and/or at the least, accept them for what they are.
Maybe the next time your little one – or your kids of any age – are upset, try asking them, “Are you okay?” instead of telling them “You are okay.” Let them, tell you, how they feel. Help them recognize what they are feeling. If they’re not sure, help them out by asking them, “Did that scare you?”, “Did you get hurt?”, “Do you feel sad?”.
You can also find an emotions wheel chart for examples here.
Many times kids can also just get overwhelmed with whatever made them feel the way they did, plus the feeling that it caused. You can help them through storytelling. Going through everything that happened and then reminding them how it ended with love and support. I.e., “I know that was scary and you got hurt. When Mommy/Daddy saw/heard I picked you up and held you tight.”
For younger kids, CoComelon has a great clip on YouTube called “The Boo-Boo Song” which shows kids the start-to-finish of a situation in which someone gets hurts and their parents look after them.
So what are the more positive notes about accepting kids’ feelings?
- They learn to trust their instincts, respecting their bodies natural responses wired intentionally to guide them.
- They learn to respect their own boundaries, saying “no” when needed.
- They learn to not bottle up their emotions.
- They learn to reach out for support and help when needed.
- They learn to communicate their feelings and needs.
- They learn its okay not to always feel okay.
What can we say instead?
You might be wondering, well what am I supposed to say anymore if my child fell down, or got up hurt, or is upset? Just so you know, it’s not always easy to rewire or automatic responses. Especially when your intentions never were to dismiss their feelings. No one expects you to wake up the next day and just drop all your other habits that you learned from growing up. For starters, you have to be patient with yourself. If you find it difficult to remember that it’s time to focus on changing somw of your automatic responses, pick one and try to use it throughout the day in any scenario. If you catch yourself saying “it’s/you’re okay”, try to just follow up with the alternative language after. Here are some examples of phrases you can start with.
- Uh oh
- I know (in an understanding tone)
- Did you get hurt?
- Are you okay?
- What happened?
- Can you tell me about it?
- That was scary
- I see you’re upset/sad/really excited/angry/scared
- It’s hard
- I’m here
- You fell down/hit your toe/bonked your head/etc.
- You really want ______, but right now we are going to _______.
Interested in a little extra reading material?
A great, easy book to read and understand that I highly suggest to any parent is “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, & Listen So Kids Will Talk”. Information about this book can be found in my Goodreads widget at the very bottom of this page!