A Toddler’s Grief – A Gift Of Grace

“You’re okay,” is repeatedly told to a child who hurts himself and does not feel okay. I would much rather give the child permission to feel the way she feels and then wait it out. Again the magic “waiting” works, because emotions have their beginning and their end — even tantrums have a beginning and an end.”  Magda Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect

Eva, the 15 month old toddler who captivated and inspired in Don’t Cramp Your Toddler’s Style recently provided her mom Tracy another powerful lesson in trust…


I have to share this story with you.  Yet another example of what RIE parenting contributes to. Had I interrupted, tried to fix her feelings, or said, “Don’t touch that snail!” I would have missed the most beautiful moment!

A few days ago, Eva and I watched a big snail crawl up a wall in the sun.  She loved the snail and kept petting him.  At one point she tried to lick the slug, to which I said, “Let’s wait before we start eating escargot.”

Yesterday we went on one of our typical afternoon excursions.   I happened to have my camera with me, because Aunt Laura had sent Eva a cute dress and I wanted her to see her in it.   Eva opened our blue door and was on her way.    As we descended the stairs, Eva suddenly came upon a crushed snail.  When she saw the poor guy, she immediately got upset.  To my surprise, she went over to the flower garden next to him and picked out a few flowers.  She sat down next to the snail, still upset.  Then, she put the flower on the snail.  After his small burial, she walked back home her normal, happy self.

She was so cute and dear, I couldn’t believe it!  I was sad to see her upset, but realized she was having her own little process about the snail.  Watching her reminded me to be aware of others and keep an open and empathetic heart!  I just had to share!

Trace and Eva










“Accept the feelings of your baby, positive as well as negative” -Gerber











As the result of being encouraged by her parents to experience the world on her terms as much as possible – supported to be herself – Eva is able to demonstrate her astonishing capacity for empathy, grace, and respect for life.










“At RIE we encourage parents to learn to quiet down, to sit peacefully, to observe and to allow babies to be real. …And as we get sensitized and skilled in the art of observing, we may try the greatest challenge: to look inside – to see, observe and learn about ourselves.” -Gerber


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Bless that child!!!

    I’m interested in the thoughts about saying ‘you’re okay’. I think it depends on the age of the child. I don’t say that to a toddler, but I do tend to use those words when a preschooler has a minor accident. However I always go on to qualify it with ‘there’s no blood’, which I’ve found reassures them instantly about the extent of the damage. Then I go on to ask where it hurts, acknowledge the pain, and we examine the damage together and discuss ways of making it feel better.

    1. Yes, isn’t she amazing?!

      Annie, I prefer asking, “Are you okay?” Or, “Your body looks okay. How do you feel?” When we say “you’re okay”, we might mean to be reassuring, but we risk invalidating the child’s feelings. Sometimes the child make appear to be okay, but still does not feel okay for whatever reason. I just think it’s much safer to never assume a child’s feelings…

      1. Love the distinction! So important to accurately and appropriately honor our children’s feelings instead of constantly wanting everything to be ok. Life is simply not always ok and that’s ok too. We have to learn how to handle the good and the bad.

      2. Children are so amazing and are forever exceeding my expectations!

        I agree. I tend to say what Annie says, but now that you mention it, Janet, there’s a big difference between, say, having scraped knees of being frightened by a fall. Our body may be okay, but an unacknowledged emotion/fear/trauma/whatever could be detrimental. I’ll be sure to keep this in mind in future. Thanks for pointing it out.

    2. Deborah K says:

      A personal story on the “not bleeding” comment:

      My parents always asked “are you bleeding?” when we fell down and started crying.

      I was an active child and broke both my leg and my collar bone before I was three. The medical personnel were really surprised because I didn’t cry or carry on.

      However, I do remember scraping my leg when I was 3 or 4 and then insisting we had to go to the hospital because if I was bleeding I was REALLY injured!

      My parents soon afterwards changed their question to “are you hurt?”

  2. beautifully put into photos and words…I tend to cringe when I hear a parent or caregiver exclaim ‘you’re ok…’….well, how would you know? I tend to use the response, “I know”…

  3. So sweet. What a big heart she has already.

  4. I love this. Caring about the lives of small creatures is a great lesson, and a great way for kids to experience these kinds of losses and dramas. My own father taught me compassion by saving a bee: a lesson that I still remember and repeated with my own children. Kids are guaranteed to accidentally kill something or stumble upon something that has dies or is severely wounded … it is just such a great opportunity for growing if the parent handles it right.

    1. Thanks for sharing your article, Alex. You are right about kids killing bugs, and, unfortunately, I have seen parents not only modeling that, but encouraging their children to do it.

  5. What do you recommend for infants? My son is seven and a half months, I don’t say ‘it’s okay’ but want to know what to say when he hurts himself etc eg falls off the bed! I know he can’t talk back, but would like to respect his feelings nonetheless. I just nurse him at the moment and that makes it better- is that alright?

    1. Gina, I would definitely recommend talking to your infant baby about the incident and his feelings about it. You might be suprised by how much he understands! I would go close to him and as calmly as possible tell him you will pick him up. Then maybe say something like: “Wow. That was a big fall. You didn’t realize you were right here on the edge (maybe showing him where he was on the bed with your hands), but you weren’t looking. That hurts.” Then, I would allow him to cry as long as he needs to while holding him and continuing to acknowledge his feelings. “That hurt and surprised you. I’m really sorry I wasn’t there to keep you from falling.”

      Dealing with even the tiniest infant with lots of respectful communication and honestly brings miraculous results. When infants are allowed to have their feelings and not have them discouraged, shushed or nursed away, they grow into toddlers who are capable of having an experience like Eva had. She is used to being allowed her feelings and letting them run their course, not going to her mother to be nursed whenever she’s uncomfortable.

      Please watch this video of a dad in one of my classes responding beautifully when his baby daughter is hurt: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8A4IF_aRntQ


      1. That’s what we do with our daughter. She calms down much faster than any other child I’ve seen being told they’re ok, nothing happened, don’t be a whinge, stop it etc. :s


        1. What about nursing once their feelings were acknowledged, they calmed down and then they asked to nurse afterward?

          I rarely ever offered the breast as a band-aid but every now and then my son would ask to nurse once he calmed down.

  6. Such a beautiful story, Thank you so much for sharing- I even had a little tear at how sweet it was lol. And dont forget to be proud of yourself and the way you are raising such a loving and empathetic little lady- it has (and will continue to) serve her well.

  7. Janet, I am humbled by the wisdom on your site. Truly. I say “It’s OK” to my daughter quite often if she has little knocks, and she picks right back up. I never thought of this as possibly undermining her own feelings. There is so much I have to learn!

    Thankfully… I am. Every. Single. Day. I am doing my best!!

    I appreciate so much all that you have shared here and am looking forwarding to new posts.


    P.S. It is funny, I want to call myself “Big Eva” or something because I see the girl here is also named Eva, but in my family, I am called “Little Eva” (or Kis Eva in Hungarian), so it’s an interesting dynamic. 🙂

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