thing you shouldn’t say:
I WAS AT THE PARK. ATHREE-YEAR OLD was running across the bike path and he fell down. He scraped his knee and he was crying.
“Mommy! Mommy!” he screamed.
And there she was at his side, crouched down and ready to help. Unlike many a rattled mother who can’t bear to see their little ones hurt, she didn’t over do it. She didn’t reach down to scoop him up and coddle him which usually only makes kids think they are more seriously injured than they are. But, on the other hand, in her efforts to soothe him, she wasn’t so soothing.
“It’s okay. It’s okay, honey!” she said. “It’s okay!
But he didn’t stop crying.
“Honey. It’s okay. Stop crying! Tell me what happened. Tell me where it hurts.”
He continued to cry.
And she continued to tell him how okay he was.
The thing is, it’s not up to us to decide if our kids are okay or not okay. Rather, we should just do our best to be there for them. To see if they are okay. This can be accomplished with a question:
“Are you okay?”
From where I was standing the answer was obvious. The little boy wasn’t okay—despite his mother’s repeated attempts to convince him otherwise. He also wasn’t quite ready to do all of the things his mom was asking him to do: 1) to stop crying 2) to tell her what had happened and 3) to tell her where it hurt. He just needed to cry a bit more. Crying can be so soothing. It releases stress and upset and lets you move on.
To me his crying said loud and clear: I’m not okay.
Likely, moments before he fell is when everything was, in fact, okay. Perhaps even better than okay. Maybe the little boy was excited to do something, perhaps he was running to a friend or saw that a swing had opened up. And then out of nowhere he trips and falls. He may or may not have been in physical pain, but he’s been blind-sighted. He may be frustrated that his plans were thwarted. Or angry because now that he’d fallen someone else has just jumped on the swing—the very swing he’s patiently been waiting to become free for an eternity. And now, on top of it, he’s being told how OKAY it all is. It’s not okay mom! My knee hurts! That girl just grabbed the fucking swing for god’s sakes! My life sucks. What makes you think everything is okay?
Just because we think something isn’t a big deal, doesn’t mean they do. And convincing them how much of a small deal it “really” is , can only backfire. Kids want to be heard and understood more than they want to be okay. And actually it’s being heard and understood that makes them feel okay.
There’s so much we can learn from “Are you okay?” And so much we can deny with “It’s okay.”
My 2-year old son brought his bike in the house the other day. I told him to bring it back out where it belongs. He’s a small guy and the bike is unwieldy and so he fell against the washing machine and the bike fell on him. I came over to see how he was. Before I could say a thing, he looked up through the handle bars and said, “I’m okay.”
Only he would know.