How often do we reassure our kids by saying “It’s okay”? We try to make them feel better, but here’s why you shouldn’t dismiss children’s emotions.
“Let’s go to the beach!” I suggested to my toddler on a recent day off. The weather had finally started warming up. I wanted to sit on the sand and hear the waves slapping back and forth. I packed up our blanket and toys, slathered on some sunscreen and headed out.
But once I set my toddler down on the sand on his bare feet, he cried, “Want to carry up!” He didn’t want to stand on the sand. So off I go carrying my 30-plus pound toddler and a heavy, oversized tote bag across sandy beach.
Once I picked a spot though, I had no choice but to put him down so that I could spread the blanket out. Immediately he starts crying again.
“It’s okay—it’s just sand,” I reassured him. I assumed he had just been finicky about dirt on his feet, something so trivial to me. I was even more confused considering that we’d gone to the beach several times in the past.
Back then, he was fine strolling on the sand. But more honestly, I was annoyed that he wasn’t making this any easier on me. I finally spread the blanket over the sand and my toddler plopped himself down.
As I sat with my toddler on my lap, I dug my hands in the sand, patting it and letting the sand filter through my fingers. “You can try it too,” I told him. And only as he stretched out his arm to touch the sand did I notice that his little hand was shaking.
In that moment I realized my mistake in brushing aside his cries or assuming that he ought to just get over the sand. He felt scared. Rather than accepting his fear as normal and real, I dismissed it as petty. But as I saw, his shaking hand showed that it was not.
Why you shouldn’t dismiss children’s emotions
It’s so easy to say “It’s okay” and dismiss the emotions of a child. We often do so to soothe our kids after they fall and get hurt. Or we say it to reassure their emotions. It might be a fear of sand, uncertainty about a new environment, or a scuffle with another kid. Saying “It’s okay” seems like the right way to erase their hurt and frustration.
But the emotions of a child are real to them—as real as our own adult emotions are to us. Our kids may not be ready to be rid of them just yet. They feel all the emotions emotions we do, but have don’t understand or communicate them well. By paying attention to their emotions, we provide the following:
A chance to sort through their feelings.
Imagine you got in a fight with a friend, and a volcanic eruption of emotions is swirling in you. You’re jealous of her new success. You feel rejected. You’re anxious over how to proceed with your friendship.
So you turn to another friend to sort your emotions, but instead she says, “It’s okay.” In your mind, it’s not okay. You’re far from feeling the least bit okay.
When I told my toddler “It’s okay,” I didn’t provide an opportunity to discuss what he may be feeling. He still had too many emotions that I completely ignored by saying “It’s okay.”
In addressing emotions, we’re respecting their feelings as just as valid as anyone else. They won’t feel belittled or small for being afraid of shadows or upset when another child takes a toy. And when we address their fears instead of teasing them with, “Are you being a scardy cat?” they’ll understand that you take their emotions seriously.
Quicker way to reduce the negative emotions of a child.
Sort through your child’s emotions. You’re helping him resolve uncertain feelings he may have instead of burying it inside.
When my son would cry hysterically at bath time, I worked around his fears. I set the faucet to a slow trickle instead of a steady downpour. I raised the temperature and used my hands instead of a washcloth. And I didn’t just force him to take a bath.
Once I realized my mistake in glossing over my toddler’s genuine fear of the sand, I changed my approach. I…
- was less irritable at his cries and instead understood his hesitation at touching the sand.
- explained this sand was the same as the one he plays with at the playground.
- took the lead and played with the sand, but didn’t force him to follow suit.
- recommended walking on the sand but respected his decision when he said no.
- suggested he stand on my flip flops when it times to fold up the blanket if he didn’t want sand all over his feet.
He never did end up taking a stroll with me on the beach. The most daring he got was using his hands to play on the sand while he kept his feet tucked away on the blanket. And that’s fine. He knows his feelings are valid that adults won’t just brush aside.
Get more parenting tips:
- Little Ways You’re Actually Judging Your Child and His Emotions
- On Accepting Your Children for Who They Are
- 5 Things You Need to Do to Handle Your Threenager
- “He Needs You”: How to Help Your Angry Child
- Do You Know What to Do when Your Child Acts Out in Public?
Have you ever found yourself saying “It’s okay” to your kids when they’re afraid or get hurt?
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