Boom! My child is on the floor from tripping over a hastily stashed bag of veggies and is upset. I go over to see if he’s alright. Or he is angry and loud, coming to tears because of some change in routine or unwanted activity. Or he looks stricken watching another child shrieking. In all these situations it is my instinct and it would seem that of most people I know to say “It’s okay!” Especially if we know it’s not really a big deal ultimately, such as a small fall or a brief separation. Lately I have been musing on the fact that for Ben, truly, it is NOT okay. He may be unhappy, confused, uncomfortable, hurt, angry or frustrated and things are definitely not okay in those moments. I think that what we’ll all trying to convey is our lifetime of wisdom of knowing which things will BE okay, or perhaps which we think SHOULD be okay. Possibly it’s a culturally based comforting phrase that just pops out of us? Or maybe we are uncomfortable with the upset child and want to smooth it over, make the discomfort (his and ours) end.
Lately, as an experiment, A and I have been trying to name his feelings instead of jumping to “It’s okay”, saying things like, “Oh Ben, you went boom, did that hurt?” [along with trying to teach the sign for “ouch”] or “Yes, I know you’re angry, Ben is frustrated, I know…” [followed by a redirect if possible]. When he’s sad, we try and acknowledge that it’s hard to be a kid, hard not to get what we want, and hard when people leave sometimes. Hugs are offered. This new approach is hopefully not done in a clingy way, mind, nor from micro-management. I’m also not running to him in a panic when he falls. I am just walking over and being present, available to name what happened, how he feels and how I’m there if he needs anything. In a way, I think it honors his humanity better not to try and superficially smooth things over when his discretion is so undeveloped and his life experience so raw and present-centered. What do you think?