It’s OK to NOT be OK

“Babies have a right to cry, and feel what they feel, with the knowledge that a kindly adult is there to help if possible. Accept the feelings of your baby, positive as well as negative.” – Magda Gerber

 

Saying “It’s OK!” to our crying child is usually meant so well.  We’re offering comfort and trying to soothe our children: “Mama is here, I got you. It’s ok, no need to cry.”

Honestly, this phrase is so automatic, and for most of us we don’t even think twice when we say it.  But after studying and reading about respectful parenting for all these years, my perspective has changed.

It’s taken practice, but I now actively avoid saying this phrase to my children.

Why?

What do Our Reactions Mean?

Well, if we think about it, shutting down the crying is actually dismissing our children’s true feelings.  Now every time I hear a parent offer the phrase “It’s ok!” I can’t help but think, “Well, maybe, it’s not ok.”

What are we really doing when we are actively comforting?

“It’s ok, it’s ok, shhh, it was just a small fall!” or, “See, we have two pink glasses, you can have this one! See, it’s ok!”

We’re rushing them through their emotions, we’re rushing them through their big feelings, we’re rushing them through whatever came up.

We’re rushing them through their emotions, we’re rushing them through their big feelings, we’re rushing them through whatever came up.

What might we try instead?

What we ultimately want them to do, is to be able to release the emotions and complete the experience of feeling what they are feeling.  If they’re upset, they’re disappointed, they hurt themselves, they got startled or scared – we want to just support them calmly, acknowledge their feelings and give them time.

The most important thing is that they feel validated. That happens when we start communicating with them authentically and non-judgementally – because really, is it up to us to judge?  

We have to respect their experience, their feelings, which are going to be different from ours. 

We know this in our adult relationships, or we should know this: we are all different, we are unique, we have our different thoughts and feelings.  One person could experience something negatively, while the other one might not care much about what just happened – but we’re going to have to respect each other’s differences, right?

Yes, we all know how trivial it can sometimes be with toddlers.  They might get upset for “no good reason”, in our opinion.  A full-blown meltdown will occur over “nothing”, but the fact that one of their socks is in the washing machine is destabilising to them.

But, we just want to say, “What is going on here? Get over it. This is no big deal. “

In that moment, we could try to step back, and first of all, acknowledge that it’s probably not even about that one sock in the washing machine. It’s usually deeper than that.

There’s a built up tension that needs to be released, or they are tired, hungry or there is some other big change in their life that is affecting their mood.  To me, this is the key in actually being to actually understand and respect our child’s journey.

What might this look like?

Let’s remove the focus from the tip of the iceberg and just allow the feelings to come out in their way, in their time.  Just support, and be there for them. Just acknowledge the feelings, validate their feelings and their experiences..

“You fell.”

“You really wanted that sock. It’s a nice sock, yeah.”
“You were thinking about that sock and you wanted to wear it. ow it’s in the washing machine.”

“Oh yeah, you’re upset. I can see you’re really upset, you wanted to wear that sock. I get it.”

Just be patient.  The feelings will pass, you will feel more connected to them, and they will feel more emotionally balanced.

It’s hard to do this, it takes awareness and compassion.  I’m not going to “sell this” to anyone, we just have to try it and feel the difference.  How much calmer will our whole household be because we are not stressed or afraid of the reaction, or the crying?  

We won’t always be working so hard to actively comfort them and “get them out of that feeling”, get them away from that place of discomfort or disappointment, anger, frustration, or whatever the feeling may be.

How might this feel for parents?

Ah, what a relief for us as parents if we could see our children’s emotions in a new light, see crying in a new light, and see it for the good and important part that it is needs to play in all of our lives.

Phew, you know that you don’t need to control their reactions either.  It’s ok, we can just let it unfold, and that’s actually teaching our children a lot of emotional intelligence.  It allows our children to recognise how to handle their big emotions and regulate them.

That’s one hat that I can take off because we don’t need to, or are not supposed to be responsible for fixing our children’s feelings or changing their reactions!”

And it all starts with this move towards being mindful and to refrain from using that phrase “It’s ok! It’s ok!” and replace it with “it’s ok… to cry”, now that is truly comforting.

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