elevating child care

Giving Your Children the Brush-Off

It always jars me when a child is hurt — on the playground, in a soccer game, or just horsing around — and when he tearfully staggers towards his parents, he is immediately directed to “brush it off.”  His natural reaction to pain and injury is perceived as babyish, weak and unappealing, or at least inconvenient for others to see or hear. Rather, he is supposed to be tough, suck it up and ignore his feelings.  The child takes a deep breath and usually obeys.  But I wonder, is it possible to brush off feelings? 

If we could really brush away all our feelings, just imagine how neat and tidy life would be!

Imagine this… It begins with a newborn. Instead of receiving mechanical swings and pacifiers as shower gifts, expectant parents are given a special brush, the “Easy-Off Pain Remover” with its patented “anti-emotive, no tears formula.” When a baby makes even a peep, she is gently brushed over her torso, from chest to belly, and voila! The feelings are brushed away like specks of lint, and then, while wearing a ‘gasp mask,’ parents carefully sweep the baby’s feelings up and pour them out into a special re-psycho-able, insanitary container.  (Well worth the trouble to never have to hear a baby cry!)

And, as children grow, they are taught to self-brush uncomfortable feelings. They learn to “get it off their chest”, literally, from the age of 2. Since everyone learns how to groom their feelings, the human experience loses its nasty, rough edges. Everyone is calm, contented, and emotionally self-sufficient. Life no longer zigs and zags wildly like Space Mountain at Disneyland.  It is a smooth, elevated ride on the Monorail.

In reality, of course, life without emotion would be dull as lint.  The disownment of discomfort, pain or sorrow would mean the death of joy and ecstasy. There is no yang without yin. Devoid of passion, we would no longer be inspired to create art, music, or literature.

Our pain, like our joy, is connected to who we are. Ultimately, it is our soul.  When we whisper to a baby, “Shush, don’t cry,” when we tell a hurt toddler, “You’re okay,” or ask him to “brush it off,” our intent is to calm the child, but what message are we sending?  The child does not feel okay.  The parent’s well-meaning words convey to him that his feelings must be wrong, or at least unimportant.

We all want to raise healthy children with strong coping skills, but a child who is not allowed the opportunity to express his feelings fully, to ride out waves of emotion to the end, does not acquire the basic knowledge that all feelings pass. No matter how horrendous we feel in the trench of the wave, the pain gradually subsides, and we can move on.  So, when we are allowed those experiences as children, we gain self-confidence.  We still feel the pain of the next wave, but we know it will crest and that we will survive. We can cope. Pain strengthens us.

So, since feelings cannot literally be swept away, we must work to be patient, calm ourselves, and acknowledge a child’s feelings, rather than rushing in to arrest them.   Then we can imagine another future, one where we are free to be our most joyful, sorrowful, beautiful, ugly selves, and embrace the highs and lows of a messy, imperfect, but authentic life.

 

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39 Responses to “Giving Your Children the Brush-Off”

  1. avatar Ed Stagg says:

    I have to admit Janet, I am guilty of the “brush off.” But even understanding it and having it held up to see clearly, I don’t believe I would choose differently in all cases.

    My son was on the front lines in Fallujah. He was the second wave in when it was the hottest place next to Baghdad. I remember talking to him and hearing his fright. I didn’t choose to make him feel better, not at all. I was tough, insensitive, and abrupt. For me, my only single concern was to do all I could do to bring him home safe. I spoke to him “man to man” so to speak and cut him no slack. I told him exactly what you warn against, “to suck it up!” I told him he did not have the luxury to whine, cry or even contemplate. For a soldier, like the police and firemen, that “edge” is what keeps them on their toes and keeps them alive. I wanted my son to be on his. The job I saw for myself at that moment in time was to make him as sharp as absolutely possible. I told him in no uncertain terms, to do the job he was trained to do. Unfortunately, that meant getting the enemy before they got him. I know how another might read these words and think to themselves, “what an @#$!” But this was an instance when “feeling good” took a back seat to just about everything else. And I believe, those are the words he needed. He didn’t a shoulder, a pat on the back, or nice blanket to hold on to, he was looking for and needed to be reminded what was at stake. And sparing you and your readers the details, I did exactly that. But in the course of the pep-talk, I did tell him that when he got home he was welcome to cry his heart out for so long as needed to, but only when he got home.

    I have to admit, I too was scared. I said my son’s eulogy over in my head a hundred times. For any parent with a child in combat it is a horrific experience. His mom could cry, but not me. I saw my job to make my son about as tough as anything that walked the earth. His life depended on him being meaner, faster, and better that his adversary. Old fashioned, sexist, whatever, I did what I believed I had to do. And as I admit at the beginning, I would do it again.

    It took him about two years to recover. And I was concerned and I spent numerous hours speaking with others, including counselors who understood better than I. It was hard to give him his emotions and watch him suffer, but I knew too that I could never understand what he felt. I followed the advice of people just like you and gave him his time. I remained observant and alert, but otherwise gave him those feelings of pain, anguish and torment, and allowed them to run their course. And today, as I have mentioned before, he is doing phenominal!

    One other thing I told him while he was there, was to pray for his enemy. To ask that their souls be caught by the hands of the Father before their bodies ever touched the ground. My son is wonderful man. I am proud both that he fights for his country and that he anguishes over having to do it. He is a man of honor. Hard when appropriate, soft when appropriate.

    Getting back on subject, child care is not easy and certainly no game. Insight, understanding and an open mind is so very important. That those are but a few of the several things I enjoy about your articles. If we are open minded, which I hope for our childrens’ sake we all are, we are forced to think, and hopefully realize we are not wizards. And that sharing can make a big difference in all of us growing and perhaps more importantly, passing along that growth to generations to come.

    I am certainly not a “by the book” dad. I just can’t be, I am guided by good advice, my spirituality, and old fashioned values. But certainly I’m open minded as well, so I hope. And I continue to study and learn even as my son is twenty-four now. So, again, thank you for sharing all you do with all of us. No matter how old I get or my son gets, I’m always a father and I’ll always be be challenged.

    • avatar Grace says:

      Ed Stagg: I agree with you 100%. Janet’s parenting advice does not apply to grown men in combat. Basic training clearly establishes the military’s view on a soldier’s feelings: stuff with extreme prejudice — live to cry another day.

      Janet, perhaps you need a disclaimer on your home page?

      Somewhat in jest,

      - Grace

  2. avatar Ed Stagg says:

    I don’t know that I’d be quite so hard on Janet’s post Grace. As a general proposition I agree with Janet. Even being old fashion and very traditonal, I have encouraged my son to express his feelings no matter what they are. In fact, he was always allowed to disagree with me and show anger, frustration, etc., so long as it was done with a bit of respect. I believed that allowed him the healthy ability to vent while learning how to do it in acceptable manner. And I will admit, there were times when he was right and I was wrong. He learned trust for me when I was willing to listen and when due, apologize or whatever the situation called for. It was that exact trust we had for one another that allowed him to be honest when he was scared, for me to be honest in my response, and for him to trust in what I had to say.

    There are times when one characterist dominates another, and I believe, rightfully so. But hopefully we teach our children understanding for their feelings and which ones are appropriate under pevailing circumstances.

    I have done my best over the years to follow the advice that Janet professes in her article and even now I continue to work on that attitude. I was only sharing a time when an authoritative approach was, in my opinion, the better one.

    I believe in the saying that “we don’t raise children, we raise adults.” Children have a unique ability to know children stuff. But we are preparing them for their adult lives. Under ordinary circumstances, I think that even the most traditional man should be able to express himself well and openly. Let’s be honest that is not always the case. Janet’s article speaks to that I believe and a character trait that will serve the men of tomorrow well. I think we’d save more marriages and see far less infighting among numerous different relationships if we could all feel safe and confident speaking freely and honestly. My son did, for if he hadn’t, I might never have known to be there for him when he needed me the most. I depended on his ability to express himself and I thank God he could accept my honesty in telling him what he needed, if even he didn’t want to hear it. In a manner of speaking, it was my son that allowed me to do my job.

    There is no way to cover any topic considering every possibility. So we speak to one or two things at a time. All advice should be but only pieces to a much larger puzzle. It’s up to us to piece them together. Every parent is different as is every child. Some pieces work, others don’t. But I’m alway greatful to have all the pieces at my disposal to call on if and or when I might need them.

  3. avatar Hayley says:

    This is a really interesting post. I sometimes am guilty of the brush off. I weigh up the situation, if they are really hurt, I comfort them.
    I never really thought of the effects of the brush off until now, thank you.

  4. avatar tlv mom says:

    In my toddler’s native language the expression used is “Oops! Nothing happened…”. From day one I always reminded the people around my baby that we must acknowledge that something did in fact happen and deal with it, rather than brush it off as you: Janet, put it, so appropriately.

    • avatar janet says:

      Yes, I’ve heard that one, too. Isn’t that the classic way to make someone believe they are crazy…tell the person that something they’ve experienced didn’t really happen?

  5. avatar Barbara says:

    (Commenting without reading the first few comments.)

    Well said, Janet.

    We chose to (ahem, I taught Hubby to) validate first, and then if it seemed appropriate, prompt a self-assessment from our child. After a brief visual exam and comforting touch, “Are you going to be alright?” Or, “What should we do about this?” Or, “What are you going to do about it?”

    (Hoping to come back later and delve into the conversation above.)

    • avatar janet says:

      Barbara,

      Sounds perfect. Thank you for sharing the wonderful suggestions.

  6. avatar Cinta says:

    Great article Janet.

    Just wondering if you have other practical suggestions of what to do and say in such situations?

    Thanks.

    • avatar janet says:

      Cinta, thanks! I like @Barbara’s line of thinking. When a very young child or baby is crying I like to go over what happened while I acknowledge the feelings… “You tripped on this toy here and fell. That hurts,” and maybe ask, “Do you want me to pick you up? a hug? an ice pack?” etc, depending on the situation and age of the child.

      I allow the crying to continue as long as it needs to, even if it seems like a huge overreaction. Sometimes that means taking a deep breath and calming myself to find patience. If crying continues, I might comment again. “That fall really upset you.” Or “You really didn’t like that loud noise.” The idea is not to assume the feelings, but just acknowledge what you are sure of…that the child is upset. We may not know for sure whether it is anger, embarrassment, fear, surprise, physical pain, etc.

      If you have a specific situation in mind, I’d be glad to give thoughts…

      There’s an interesting recent discussion thread in the community section regarding 2 year olds releasing feelings through tantrums. http://janetlansbury.com/community/topic.php?id=22

  7. avatar Darla Hutson says:

    Janet – This is an interesting post as has many things for all parents to consider. Thank You. Some children do learn to create moments that will lure a parent into empathy, compassion, tenderness, etc. It becomes a “game,” much like crying when a parent leaves a child in anothers care only to have the “tears” stop abruptly the moment the parent has left. Children KNOW who they can manipulate best…in most cases, it is the primary caregiver…be it Mom or Dad. As parents, our “hearts” are often TOO close to the tears be objective about the REASON for them. In teaching our children, we must not only be emphatic and compassionate to REAL crying; but learn when our children are “playing us” and encourage them to find some other way to express what they are feeling. It is our job to teach them when crying is appropriate and when it is not. When really hurt or injured, yes. To “tug” at someones heart to get what we want…probably not.

    • avatar janet says:

      Darla, I understand your point-of-view and thank you for sharing it. I believe there is a big difference between allowing feelings to be expressed and giving in to them. No, we don’t stop in our tracks and change our mind about a rule, a limit, or about leaving because our child disagrees or has an emotional response. When we leave our child with another and he cries, I believe it’s best to acknowledge, “I hear you not wanting me to go. I’ll be back later,” and then GO with the confidence that we’ve chosen good care for our child. Then, hopefully, if there are tears after we leave, the caregiver or teacher will allow and encourage them, allow our child to grieve our absence rather than telling him he’s okay and shouldn’t cry.

      I think it is presumptuous and even dangerous for us to be deciding whether any other person’s feelings are “real” or not. With inappropriate actions like hitting — YES, we set limits. But crying should always be acceptable, in my opinion. In my experience, children do not cry to manipulate unless it habitually “works” for them, or they are used to their parents reacting with panic, annoyance or anger to their tears.

      • avatar Barbara says:

        Agreeing with you, (again) Janet. Children learn to manipulate by means of the responses adults give them.

        Also have to pitch-in my reminder of the developmental/maturation differences among ‘children’. We respond differently to babies, 2-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 6-year-olds, and so on. At fairly regular intervals, a parent should be advancing the expectations of the child to self-manage emotions and increase responsibility for self.

  8. avatar Darla Hutson says:

    Janet – I agree, to some extent:) What I’m talking about are those times when children DO know that it works…and more often than not, children are very good at deciphering what DOES and DOES not work. It is harder for parents to distinguish at times because our hearts are so intuned to our children. They may cry in the toy aisle and we KNOW that they want the toy, but are also overtired. Just because both are present, does not make the behavior of crying or tantrams an acceptable behavior. How can we help teach our children self-control if we allow crying over things that should not necessitate it? I hope that makes sense. It DOES NOT mean that we cannot show compassion, but that we should say, “I know you are tired and WANT the toy, but crying is not an acceptable way to get it.” We can discuss when we CAN get the toy and go home to rest. Pick them up and carry them out if necessary:) A little rest and a conversation about when the toy can be earned or purchased will HELP rather than allowing the crying to persist in the middle of a dept. store. If allowed, the behavior will repeat itself and we have caused, not only our child, but ourselves more difficulty in stopping the negative behavior.

    • avatar janet says:

      Darla, with all respect, I still disagree with treating crying and tantrums as unacceptable behaviors. I understand how difficult it is for parents to hear crying, but rather than use that as a reason to try to stop the crying, I believe we need to bite the bullet, allow it, but continue to say “NO” to the toy, or whatever it is. Yes, crying is an unacceptable way to “get” anything but it is always an acceptable way to express feelings (if we want to ensure our child’s healthy emotional development).

      I would say something similar to what you said, “You sound tired and upset. I know you want that toy, but we won’t be buying it today.” Then, if the crying continues, “You sound too upset and tired to be here. We’re going home.”

      Ideally, we wouldn’t take a tired child to the dept. store, and I agree with you that if he begins crying or having a tantrum in public we should take him home if at all possible, but I would never ever tell a child he shouldn’t cry.

  9. Janet

    Thank you for addressing this topic. Obviously, this kind of subject has as many approaches as there are situations. I like the way you present it and the comments are all very interesting.

  10. avatar Alexandra says:

    Thank you for this post. As always, thought provoking.
    Instead of brushing off pain or discomfort, I have been absolutely thrilled with a technique that I have been practicing, which I learned recently in my RIE class from other parent-participants in the class, and underscored by the instructor, Carole Pinto.
    Basically, this technique is a process of verbalizing my child’s discomforts, expressing through words and language for her.
    For example, if she falls and hits her head, I look at her, calmly, keeping my responses as warmly-neutral as possible. I move nearby her and wait, allow her to initiate coming as close physically towards me as she needs to. Then if she continues to seem upset I narrate what happened with simple language, watching her responses:
    “You bumped your head on the table. Then you cried.” I gesture towards my own forehead and then touch the table as I speak. Then I wait, see if she still seems upset. Then I say the same words again, objectively reporting what happened. I repeat as many times as seems necessary. It is incredible to me how she consistently responds. She will cry for a second, breathe, seeming to work through the “trauma”. Then she might touch her head, or gesture to the place where she fell, and babble, looking at me meaningfully. I will tell the story again, very calmly. I ask if she would like a hug. I make it clear that I am with her in her discomfort, attempting to leave my own feelings out of the way, aiming to offer space for her to move through her feelings as powerful as they might be. And when she is ready to move on, we move on.
    The process fosters calm around a potentially anxiety-provoking trauma, and seems to support skills of resiliency. My child definitely does not always want or need the telling, sometimes she shows/tells me what happened and then moves on. Carole added to this – watch her, to make sure it’s not just a monologue but really supporting her to move through the process if she needs it.
    Recently I was supporting Eliana in this process. A friend who was nearby mentioned that she had read an article about supporting older children with active-listening skills when they come to a parent seeking support. This is supportive to the development of self-esteem for the older child. I am sure that this process offers a similar kind of support to a one-year old. In addition, it is clear to me that this process helps a young child who is processing big, possibly scary feelings by helping the feelings be visible. Through articulating what has happened I help her make her experiences be more tangible and therefore manageable.

    Is this from process from Magda Gerber? Is there a name for this process?
    Thanks as always!

    • avatar janet says:

      Alexandra, thank you for describing so articulately (as always) this response to a toddler’s minor injury. Yes, this is what Magda Gerber taught us and I’m not aware of a particular name for it. As you said, it is waiting a moment to gauge our child’s response rather than rushing in (and projecting panic which can then upset the child further) and then acknowledging and reflecting upon what happened. Yes, much of what Magda Gerber taught was about observing objectively, getting our “feelings out of the way” and projecting calm. Our children are so sensitive to our responses and feelings. If we can remain supportive, accepting, non-judgmental and patient about our child expressing feelings, she learns to process them in a healthy manner.

      When we reflect on the incident with our child we don’t have to repeat the story again and again. It should feel very natural, like the way we would respond to an adult who was injured and couldn’t speak clearly. We wouldn’t rush over in a panic because that might upset the person, and we wouldn’t tell him or her to “brush off” the feelings.

    • avatar Lexa says:

      What a beautiful process, Alexandra!

  11. avatar Shanna says:

    I have had to work very hard to avoid the “don’t cry” or “you’re OK” responses, which seem to be what immediately come to mind for most parents. It was also very difficult at first to resist rushing over and grabbing my daughter when she hurt herself. It’s gotten easier as she as gotten older and become more verbal. At 22 months old she now says “uh-oh, fell” or “oops, slipped”, often before I know what’s happened. I acknowledge it and ask her if she is OK. Most of the time she will either say yes or move on to something else. If she comes over to me or says something like “upset” or “hurt elbow”, then I know she wants comfort. I tell her I am sorry that she is upset and hurt, and I give her a hug.

    It is more difficult to acknowledge feelings (and not show my own) when she is crying over something that seems very insignificant, or when she is throwing a tantrum because she doesn’t want to do something that’s necessary. Thank you for this piece reminding us that feelings are always valid. I wish I had found your blog, and learned about RIE, when my daughter was an infant!

    • avatar janet says:

      Shanna, those things you describe are hard for all of us. I’ve found it helpful to remember that these seemingly extreme, indulgent and over-the-top outbursts are, more often than not, a healthy release of pent-up feelings that may have little to do with the matter at hand. Getting the feelings out is always healthy and good. So, instead of feeling frustrated and annoyed, know that you are being a FANTASTIC parent whenever you can let go and calm yourself enough to allow your child these emotional eruptions.

  12. avatar Beth says:

    Thank you for this post. I think this is such a difficult concept for so many adults because they too receive messages to avoid discomfort and strong emotions. Asking caregivers to welcome children’s emotional expressions requires them to be comfortable with their own emotional experiences. To be able to sit with an emotion, ride the wave, and let it pass, is a skill that many adults need to cultivate – especially if they want to support children.

    In my work, I often talk with caregivers and educarers about children’s social and emotional development — and I continually find myself reflecting on how important it is for adults to reflect back on themselves — critically considering their understandings, biases and behavior, in order to free themselves from their own unhealthy patterns and become available to nurture and support their child’s healthy growth and development.

    Not easy work, but the profound effect it has on a persons ability to nurture another is certianly worth the hardwork and effort.

    I also think that when adults share how they are feeling with children (in healthy appropriate ways) they send a powerful message that emotions are a natural part of the human experience, and create a meaningful conversation that is critical to developing deep relationships.

    • avatar janet says:

      Such important work, Beth. So glad you are doing that. Yes, this is all about comfort with our own emotions, because this discomfort gets passed down generation to generation… perhaps stemming from primitive times when babies and young children needed to be kept quiet for survival’s sake. On the bright side, I’ve found that encouraging our children to feel the things we may have been subtly, or not so subtly discouraged from feeling can be a healing process for us.

  13. avatar Lexa says:

    Thanks for this post. It’s always nice to hear that others recognize the feelings of our youngest children as valid and important. As an early childhood professional, I too have experienced a billion ‘boo-boos’ and other miscellaneous hurts with my children.
    Recently I have begun to consider the necessity of not only honoring their feelings and giving them a voice (using adult labels for the feelings) but also helping them to deal with these feelings right from the start. In the last year, I have been fortunate to have two wonderful boys in my classroom who have cyanotic and pallid spells caused by breath holding in response to pain for frustration.
    Long story short, we have made a practice of using deep breaths (or ‘blowing bubbles’ as we call it) to keep our bodies calm throughout the day. We talk about how good our bodies feel and about how calm it feels after we breathe in all the good air. As the children are so young, it probably doesn’t make the most sense but they do seem to enjoy the sensation. Then when something upsetting occurs the real magic happens. The children naturally come for comfort, which they are readily given as described in both the post and the responses. Sometimes, the need for comfort takes a while which is just fine.
    Then as the child begins to calm, we suggest taking deep breaths. Often, they are not ready to do so, but we still model the behavior. Not only does it help the adult to remain calm and supportive of the child, it helps the child to calm themselves!
    As many have said, children need to have coping skills. However, to really cope with pain and frustration the experience MUST be recognized by adult and child and then be given a name so the child is able to learn to recall the feeling on their own. (Brushing it off doesn’t give the child this opportunity.) That being said, sympathy also needs to be accompanied by a strategy to empower the child the own his or her emotions and experiences. Whether it’s deep breathing, getting a hug, or using words to describe a situation the child should always be offered a chance to face their pain and move forward rather than suppress until it happens again.

  14. avatar Wendy Bergonse says:

    I believe it should be fairly obvious that she is referring to little children and teaching them about managing their feelings, not grown men in combat…

  15. avatar Tracey Anne says:

    This is a subject I am trying to learn more about. I am trying to learn RIE principles, although I have a lot to learn!

    I have an eight month old baby boy who is crawling and learning (teaching himself) to stand. Inevitably he falls and bumps his head or gets a fright and cries.

    I observe him and leave it to him to initiate comfort by crawling over to me and crawling onto my lap. When he does this I try and validate his feelings (“I see you got a big fright. I’m sorry you feel sad” or similar), give him a cuddle, tell him I love him and let him cry. Usually he is quickly distracted as he can spy other toys from his new vantage point and crawls off my lap to retrieve them. But sometimes my response seems to fail him – he cries and cries until he is hysterical and not able to calm himself at all – this despite me cuddling him and talking to him calmly.

    I’ve observed my husband in the same situation and he usually responds with a traditional “You’ll be alright”, a big hug and a walk around the room until the tears are forgotten. Within a few moments the baby is happy again, smiling, laughing and playing.

    I don’t believe an eight month old can fake emotions. Surely he is genuinely happier with this approach than when he is hysterical in my arms?

    I’d love some practical advice on how I can validate my son’s crying while still offering actual comfort.

    • avatar Heather says:

      Tracey Anne: Maybe Janet will be able to give you better advice, but I think you are actually offering comfort already. Your husband is distracting your son from his strong feelings – so he is smiling and laughing in a few moments. You are giving him space to work through not just the fall of that moment, but all those times in the day when his father distracted him, or when he distracted himself before he had worked through the feelings he had. I think that sometimes we think ‘hysterical’ has to be stopped. But often hysterical is the result of the previous ‘stopping’ of the expression of emotions throughout the day (or days) and the build up results in hysterical. But I think you can trust that your child’s body is equipped with its own ways (hormone release is one) to counter physical reactions that feel too strong, and trust that your loving and accepting presence is enough.

      • avatar janet says:

        Heather, thank you so much for this response to Tracey Anne. I definitely couldn’t have said it better.

  16. avatar Deb says:

    I’ve always been one to watch and observe, as my kids have been the type to know themselves quite well. If they are hurt, they cry, if not they get up and keep going.
    I have found it has been helpful in times of great crisis, to be able to start to show them ways to cope. This is especially true in medical and other high stress situations, where what’s happening is beyond their scope of understanding. Acknowledging and talking through what’s going to happen, what is happening, and validating feelings (not just brushing them off) does indeed make a difference.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think there are times when kids should be allowed to simply express feelings on their own and ride it out, knowing we love them and support them, and there are other times when stepping in and helping them cope through it are really important. And I think these things are different.

  17. I feel it is important to mention, as well as the immeasurable benefits to our children, it is also amazing for our relationship with them for us to be able to stay and support their strong emotions without judgement. Now that I have become more confident in this process, I find that my son is more connected to me, more affectionate and cooperative, and increasingly able to handle difficulties without a meltdown (he is 2.5). We still have tantrums and they are often BIG and LONG, but when we (my husband or I) give those intense emotions the time and space to explode and then pass we find our son comes out of it a much happier and loving person. And one that sleeps better!! And it feels so much more right to me to be compassionate and supportive than it felt to be impatient and judgmental. Trying to curb a tantrum felt terrible and put a wall between my expressive child and myself.
    I have also observed that my son’s tantrums, at least, often are set off by minor things. It is hard not to feel like he is overreacting. But I suspect the tantrums are actually related to stored tension rather than the minor limit or disappointment he is facing. With that in mind I now am comfortable “setting him off” by holding limits, knowing that he might just be looking for an opportunity to express his discontent and that if I allow it, he will be grateful and our bond solidified once again.

  18. avatar Erin says:

    I always look forward to your new posts, Janet, and appreciate this one as well! I’ve often cringed when parents of toddlers break into a chorus of cheers when their little one trips or falls down–distracting him from the opportunity to investigate his feelings and response for himself (and I do suspect this is even more of a problem for parents of little boys).

    So I couldn’t agree more about the value, and beauty, of accepting, supporting and validating young children’s and babies’ emotions. I have been careful to practice this with my daughter since she was 7 or 8 months old and she is an exceptionally very resilient and loving little person.

    However, like some of your other commenters, I wonder about the relationship between this practice of acceptance and validation and the eventual development of those important life skills of coping in the midst of stressful situations (Deb). I would agree that babies and toddlers shouldn’t be expected to “cope.” But sometimes, for adults and even older children, certain situations require immediate emotions to be controlled or set aside for the moment (Ed Stagg’s example of a grown son in combat would be an extreme example of this).

    Maybe the idea is that learning to recognize and accept one’s emotions in some way enables one to control them when necessary down the line (whether that control is socially mandated, as in, it’s not okay to cry in a professional meeting, or required for safety, as in, it’s not okay to give in to tears and fears when a building is on fire and direct action is needed)? Who better to maintain a clear head in such situations than someone confident in herself? Someone who knows his own capacity to respond appropriately in the moment and come out stronger on the other side?

    • avatar janet says:

      Erin, I believe you nailed the answer here: Maybe the idea is that learning to recognize and accept one’s emotions in some way enables one to control them when necessary down the line (whether that control is socially mandated, as in, it’s not okay to cry in a professional meeting, or required for safety, as in, it’s not okay to give in to tears and fears when a building is on fire and direct action is needed)? Who better to maintain a clear head in such situations than someone confident in herself? Someone who knows his own capacity to respond appropriately in the moment and come out stronger on the other side?

  19. avatar Irene says:

    Always a good reminder. Out of bad habit, I sometimes fall into the brush it off, however I continue to practice and remind myself that I should check in and identify the feelings and just give comfort. Thanks for sharing your insight!

  20. avatar Judy says:

    I enjoyed this post. I run a playgroup in the mornings with just seven 2-3 yr olds. I always let them have a little cry and comfort them if they get hurt and then the tears turn off and we move on :)

  21. avatar Penny says:

    Dear Janet,

    I follow your post avidly, even though I don’t always comment, thinking that you already have a lot of post to reply to. I thought this is as good a time as any, to thank you for your wonderful and noble work of teaching, how to care for the next generation. So thank you! :)

    Regarding your above article, one of my automatic responses after my daughters are hurt due to a fall is to apologies! It sounds odd but I often tell them that I am so sorry that they have hurt themselves! My feeling is that it comes from my deep rooted feeling of guilt that I carry due to my lack of self esteem! should I stop myself from apologizing?

  22. avatar Kelly says:

    I am loving your posts, Janet, as a 2nd time mom! I agree that it is always important to validate feelings. My question is how to respond to an older child (7) who frequently gets sulky. Our oldest is generally a happy child but often cries easily about minor injuries or going to school. The going to school is particularly hard after an extended break like we just had (Christmas), as ever since school has been back in session he talks about being sick and not able to go. The crying from falling or other minor brushes may just be asking for more attention?

  23. avatar Elanne Kresseer says:

    Wow! So exciting to still find new things on your blog. Even when they were written awhile ago. I had an amazing reflection from my daughter in relation to this the other day. She wanted me to pretend to cry when she told me she was going to leave for awhile. So I did and she reflected back empathy, grace and boundaries such that I almost did cry for real! She said to me, “are you feeling tender? “Yes” I said. “Do you need a hug?” She asked. “Yes” I cried back. Then she held out her arms and asked, “can I pick you up?” I held out my arms and told her yes. She pretended to pick me up and gave me a long hug. Then she looked me straight in the eye and kindly asked “would you like to walk me to the door to say goodbye?” I said yes and we walked to the door hand in hand with her pausing for a time out in our pretend to ask me where I thought the door for her to leave through should be. We chose her playroom door and she matter-of-factly hugged me and said goodbye and closed the door. I was stunned and so delighted to have her mirror back to me all things I have said to her. She let me know how much she has learned about honoring feelings and having boundaries!

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