• Martha Lewis

Do you tell your child "You're ok" when he falls down?

For me , the thought of raising a child has always been terrifying. Taking care of a baby is making sure he survives. That seems easy compared to actually raising your child as he gets older. So I read a lot of articles and books about parenting. And I love the fact that being a parent makes me reflect on my life and childhood. And learn and grow as a person.

I just read the book Parentspeak: What's Wrong with How We Talk to Our Children--and What to Say Instead by Jennifer Lehr. The book made me really think about how I talk to my son Parker. I realize that most of what we say to our kids is what our parents said to us and what we've heard other parents say our whole lives. And we say these things without thinking about how our words affect our kids.

Jennifer Lehr covers many of the phrases you constantly hear parents say. Like "good job," "you're ok," "you're so cute," "be careful," and many more. She also includes chapters on time outs, sharing, and tickling as well. She's extremely passionate about kids' feelings and the belief that we should give kids the same respect we give adults.

This book has made me really think about how I talk to Parker. And the best thing about the book is that she gives alternatives to those phrases we constantly say to our kids.

I loved every chapter so it's hard to feature just one. But I'd like to give you an example of her point of view.

So I'll start with "you're ok." Do you find yourself saying this phrase whenever your child falls down or hurts himself? I know I did. And as soon as I read this chapter, I noticed my husband saying it every time Parker got hurt and cried.

Lehr points out that saying "you're ok" when you kid falls down sends the wrong message and doesn't show that you're empathizing with him. She describes the scenario where a toddler is excitedly running somewhere and then he falls and face-plants.

"His knees are scraped, his hands are stinging, and his plans are thwarted. Naturally, he cries. And then there they are, the words of reassurance: 'You're ok, buddy...just brush it off.' Is it only me, or does anyone find it not merely ironic but just plain odd that we tell kids they're okay at precisely the moment when they are anything but?"

I never thought about it before, but yeah, that does seems weird. I mean, you wouldn't say this to an adult who hurt herself. So why do we say it to kids?

After thinking about it, I think what we mean by saying "you're okay" is "you're not seriously hurt, everything will be ok." But your toddler doesn't understand your real meaning. He hears that he's supposed to be okay even though he isn't. He's hurt and frustrated and not okay.

Telling kids they're ok when they don't feel ok can make them feel ashamed about their feelings. And I know that I want my son to know that his feelings are valid and that it's okay to cry when he's upset. I want him to have emotional intelligence.

Because, as Lehr writes, "The truth is, one's emotional intelligence - often called EQ - is a much greater predictor of a person's happiness than one's IQ, achievements, wealth, and test scores." And I want Parker to be happy more than anything else.

So what should I say instead? Well, he'll actually be more relieved if I empathize with him. I could hug him and say instead, "You fell. It looks like that hurt. I'm sorry that happened." And then he's over it and back to running again.

And he's learned that it's okay to cry when you fall down. And that his mom understands how he feels. And I'm happy that he's learning empathy.

Because I think that empathy is more important than toughness. We've got enough men in the world who can't show their feelings. Maybe Parker's generation can be different.

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Martha Lewis, MS

Jackson Hole, WY



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