How to Respond When Your Child is Hurt
The other day I was substituting in a classroom full of toddlers, and I saw the teacher comfort a hurt child in a beautiful way. It made me think that we should all be so effective at helping our children’s hurts feel better.
Here are a few tips to help your child feel safe and comforted, and also develop resilience and the ability to ask for help. Yep, all that can come if you support your child’s bump on the head using these few tips!
Tip 1: Be aware of your own response to your child’s hurt. When your child is hurt, depending on elements of your own upbringing, you may instantly be fearful and worried, automatically pulled to downplay it, or you may feel embarrassed for yourself or your child. These reactions can either encourage the child to overfocus on the hurt, or can encourage the child to try to bite her tongue and shut it down, neither of which is a healthy reaction. Notice patterns in your verbal responses and check in with your body to become more aware of your emotional reactions.
Tip 2: Be the secure and available homebase for your child. As soon as the child can crawl, invite him to come to you with all his minor hurts. At once, you give the messages that you are available to comfort him, and that he is capable of coming to you to ask for comfort and support. When he comes to you, open your arms and invite him in to be held, or give your full attention and hear about his hurt.
Tip 3: Reflect your child’s reaction, don’t get stuck in your own. Once you’ve separated your own reaction from your child’s (tip 1), reflect your child’s tone and situation back to him: “You bumped your head! That hurt!” In the classroom I mentioned above, the child came and crawled into the teacher’s arms, and she asked, “What happened?”, then when the child pointed, through tears and wails, she gave words: “Right there? You got bumped right there! The blocks fell right on your arm! Ouch! That hurt!” She continued giving words until the child wandered off.
Tip 4: If your child seems to be playing up the reaction to the hurt, realize that they are still expressing a legitimate need. Rather than getting irritated because your child is “faking”, instead reflect their need for attention or a broader form of comfort. “That really bothered you. You seem to be needing extra, extra, extra love and care right now. I’m available for cuddles!” You may also remind your child that he or she can come for cuddles anytime he or she needs, even when there is no hurt.
Tip 5: In every case, let the hurt be your child’s – you do not need to take on their emotional state as your own. In fact, what your child needs most is for you to stay calm and collected so that they can draw on you as a source of security, an available and secure homebase.
Sending love for all the little hurts!