If there's one thing I've learned thus far in my parenting journey, it's that I am always learning something new. As mothers, we are often the ones kissing boo boos and offering a soothing hug when our child is hurting, but I realized recently that there's one thing I will no longer say to my daughter when she's upset. So I went in search of positive parenting techniques that might be a healthier alternative to my first inclination, which is to swoop in and magically erase the hurt altogether.
The quick back story, for context: my 7-year-old was running past a framed picture that I had leaning against a wall, causing it to fall and catch her on the side of the ankle. The frame was large enough that I am sure it hurt. Badly. My response was to first, feel guilt for putting the frame there in the first place, and second, to say "It's OK, it's OK" over and over to try and comfort her as she wailed, tears streamed down her face.
In response, she screamed, "IT'S NOT OK!" back at me. And you know what? She was absolutely right.
In that moment, the parenting light bulb went on, and I realized by telling her everything was OK, I was really soothing my own anxiety, and I suppose, guilt, over the accident. For her, everything was definitely not OK, and by telling her it was, I wasn't allowing her to own her feelings in that moment.
Nicki Nance, PhD and licensed psychotherapist, writes, "Telling kids that something does not hurt when it does challenges their reality. Kids need permission to exist, to be who they are, to think, feel, and make mistakes."
So what should you say to soothe your child when they are hurting?
Sue at The Montessori Mom, writes, "When your child falls, the first thing you need to do is provide them comfort, while checking them for injuries. This requires that you ask them if they are OK, instead of telling them that they are ok. There may be an injury that is not apparent to you or maybe they just need a little comfort."
Elizabeth Pantley, author of "The No-Cry Sleep Solution" book series, writes, "When it comes to physical pain, every human being has a different tolerance level. What 'doesn't hurt' for one person may indeed hurt another. It's impossible to judge another person's pain—physical or emotional."
Instead of saying "it's OK," Pantley suggests validating your child's feelings. Letting them know their feelings are real, and that their concerns, pain and worry are normal.
Then, The Montessori Mom suggests asking these questions (replace "fall" with however the accident occurred):
- "Are you OK?"
- "How are you feeling?"
- "Can I do something to help you feel better?"
- "I saw that you fell. Does anything hurt?"
- "I'm glad you are not hurt. Did the fall scare you?"
- "Do you feel a little embarrassed that people saw you fall?"
Pantley writes, "What your child wants most from you at a time like that is to simply have you listen to their concerns and acknowledge their feelings. Once her feelings are acknowledged, she'll be much more likely to hear your words of explanation or advice which, in turn, may actually help soothe her."
Being a mother is a fluid, ever-changing position, and as my children grow, there will be plenty more hits and misses along the way, I'm sure. But only when we talk about the "misses" can we figure out a way to be better.