What Should I Say When My Child is Hurt or Scared?

Posted by in No-Cry Separation Anxiety

Don’t cry, you’re okay.” “Everything will be fine.” “You have nothing to worry about.” These are such natural adult responses! But your child is very likely thinking: “But it DOES hurt!” “I AM worried!” “It’s NOT okay!

Children, like adults, do feel what they feel; telling them that they don’t just confuses and frustrates them, but doesn’t make the feeling go away. In fact, the child will feel misunderstood and lonely in her fear, pain or worry. In addition, 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.

Scared-Child-ElizabethPantley

So if denying your children’s feelings doesn’t help, what about explaining away the problem or giving sage advice? Neither of these ideas helps, either. Your child is so immersed in her feelings that, while you’re busy explaining or advising, she’s busy trying to convince you of her very real concerns. The result is that you both talk at, instead of to, one another.

The problem is that we view child-size concerns through adult eyes. But seeing the picture is a matter of proportion: a child’s problems are relative to her size.

Try This Approach

Validation — Letting your child know that her feelings are real—simply by virtue of their being felt—and that her concerns, her pain, and her worry are normal is the key to the best response.

Trenton, 22 mths

Trenton, 22 mths

Next time your child approaches you with pain, fear, or worry, stifle the urge to respond in those unhelpful ways, such as defying the feelings, minimizing the fear or waving away your child’s concern. What your child wants most from you at a time like that is to simply have you listen to her concerns and acknowledge her feelings. “Yes, honey, I know you’re feeling scared. Even grownups don’t like to go to the dentist.” 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.

If you deny her feelings, she’ll feel compelled to prove to you, and to herself, that her feelings are valid to save face. If you give her feelings validity, you can then help her understand and surmount them. You can then help her develop strategies to deal with the fear or pain that she’s struggling with.

Naomi, 4 yr

Naomi, 4 yr

The ideas you express, once she feels safe enough to express her fears, are the foundation for strategies she’ll build later in life when confronted by fears, pain or worry of a more adult proportion. Plus, when you help her understand and identify her emotions, you will help her better understand herself, and to trust her own perceptions about life.

There’s another important benefit from this approach, too: if she feels validated on the little stuff she’ll be more likely to come to you for the big stuff. You’ll be the safe port in a storm she’ll so desperately need later, a place she can go where she’s sure to be understood and comforted.

Sofia, 16 mth

Sofia, 16 mth

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