When my grandpa passed away, I cried a lot. The last thing I wanted to hear was “you’re fine!”
When I fell and hurt my leg, the last thing I wanted to hear was “you’re ok!”
When my son was ill and had to go to the hospital the last thing I wanted to hear was “you’re fine!”
In our saddest, scariest, and most painful moments as an adult, it is easy for us, and often other adults, to recognize the magnitude of emotions we are feeling. We know our feelings are big, and real, and appropriately overwhelming. And if someone tried to tell us we were fine, it would seem like utter nonsense. Of course we are not fine!
Despite this, when children cry or express big feelings, adults often have an inclination to say things like “you’re fine”, “it’s ok”, or “calm down”. Often times, we don’t share the emotional reaction children are experiencing, causing us to minimize or discount the realness of children’s feelings.
It is essential to recognize that in these moments, children want exactly what we’d want: to be heard, for our feelings to be acknowledged, and for someone we trust to simply be with us in a moment of difficulty or uncertainty.
Whan children have big feelings, we can support them by saying things like:
“You’re really upset right now.”
“Sometimes big feelings can be overwhelming.”
“It’s disappointing when things don’t go the way we want them to.”
“It’s ok to feel mad.”
We can also support children by doing things like:
Getting on their level.
Waiting for the big feeling to pass.
Giving space when it’s needed.
Being available to support recovery from big feelings.
Most importantly we can avoid shaming children for having feelings or forcing them to process them without support. Managing feelings is a necessary life skill and develops best with acknowledgement in trusting relationships.
Here’s my favorite children’s book for helping them understand and work through big feelings: http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/booknook/bn_bombaloo.pdf
For more resources: