When your child is frightened

Happy Wednesday!

As we move into October it’s common for kids to be fearful about lawn ornamentation and creepy/ghostly products for sale in many stores.

But they can also be frightened any time of year, by factors such as:
– The dark, which changes the appearance of common everyday things like a closet or under the bed
– Taking a fall or colliding with another object or person
– Frightening noises, such as smoke detectors or fire alarms

(To that list I would add something that you may not have thought of:
Kids become frightened when a trusted adults acts unpredictably.
That is going to be the subject of next week’s newsletter, so stay tuned.)

For today we’re focusing on how to help kids feel better when they are frightened (by forces other than the behavior of their trusted adults.)

Often, we can be most helpful by doing the opposite of what is top-of-mind.

Say a young child takes a spill on her bike. She gets up, stunned and frightened, and with a skinned knee and hand. It HURTS.
She begins to cry. She looks to her mom for comfort.

If you were this girl’s mom, what might you say?

Like lots of parents, perhaps something like “you’re okay, you’re not hurt. Stop crying.”

But when we say that, we invalidate our child’s experience and feelings.

In this week’s’s episode – our 300th! – of the We Turned Out Okay show, guest Janine Halloran shares what a kid hears when we say to them “you’re not hurt, stop crying.”
It’s not pretty.
What kids hear when we say that is: “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
The internal message they start to tell themselves is “I shouldn’t do this.”

As in, “I shouldn’t be crying.”

And yet they are still in pain. It hurts to take a fall!

It’s even more tempting – when we cannot see the cause or know ourselves that there is nothing to be afraid of – to give children the message that they “shouldn’t” feel afraid or anxious.

But we don’t want to invalidate their thoughts, experiences, or feelings.

So what to do instead?

Validate their thoughts.
When you want to say to them “don’t think that,” turn it around. Let your child know you hear their thoughts. And their thoughts are valid. Even if those ideas are completely incorrect. What matters is that they’ve given voice to the thought.
It’s amazing when our kids trust us enough to share in something big.
Instead of invalidating, honor that trust. It can be as simple as saying “I understand.”
Or even, “I hear you.”

When they have questions about something that frightens us, this becomes even more important.
That’s when we must check ourselves. That’s when we must be sure that, when they ask questions about something that frightens us, we don’t push those thoughts under the rug to make ourselves feel better.

If I’m having trouble with an idea, imagine how much worse it is for a child, and how much more alone they will feel if their trusted adult invalidates their thoughts. (But more on that next week.)

Validate their fears.
Growing up, probably like you, I heard the expression “there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
While I have awesome parents – I truly feel as though I won the parent lottery – they got this wrong.
Because even though we parents know there’s nothing to be afraid of, children do not know that.

Kids live in a magical world, where anything can happen.

Like, literally anything.
Just because we say there is nothing under the bed, they have a hard time believing that, because, well, anything can happen!

Say to your child “I understand your fears.”
Help them feel safe.

When our youngest was afraid of zombies as a little boy, we made up a little spray bottle (filled with water, shhh, don’t tell) that had a horribly-drawn-by-me image of a zombie with this red circle around it and a line through it.
It was Zombie Spray!
Each night before bed Jay would spray that magical formula around his room, and feel safe sleeping because he had sprayed the zombies away.
Plus, bonus hydration in wintertime : )

Validate their experiences.
My favorite way that I’ve seen this was with my brother, when his kids were young.
At the park one day one of my nephews fell and landed pretty well face down on asphalt. We all paused, wondering “is he seriously hurt?” and he looked up at us, shaken but not bleeding.
As his face crumpled into tears, my brother shouted “Man down! Man down!”, ran over, helped his son up, and gave him a hug.

With word and gesture my brother communicated to his son: “I understand your experience. I am here for you.”
(When I tell you it was my brother who first shared the concept of a Yard Sale in skiing – when you take a tremendous tumble and lose ALL your gear – that will make perfect sense to you. I was a grownup when he introduced the concept to me, and it even made me feel better about falls. Still does.)

Framing our experiences, even the tough ones, in a humorous, even positive, light – while still communicating “I understand your experience, and I empathize with you” – is so helpful to our children.

How are you doing with validating your child’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences?

Is it hard for you? I completely get it if it is. It’s a hard mindset shift to make.

I’d love to be of help if I can. Click here and let me know!


Keep reading below for What’s up on the podcast/In the Facebook group/in NPC…
Wishing you a wonderful parenting week!

What’s up on the podcast this week:
In our Episode 300 (!) Extravaganza, coping-skills expert Janine Halloran and veteran preschool teacher Tricia Tomaso answer your questions and discuss how social and emotional learning is being taught in the classroom, and whether school really does screw up kids.
Click the link below to listen!

What’s up in the We Turned Out Okay Facebook group this week:
Magic Words for Parents returns with a new installment next Monday (it was off for the holiday), but there are nearly 100 back episodes of this Facebook live I’ve been doing each Monday since 2018. Come check them out.
Click here to join the Facebook group!

What’s up in the Ninja Parenting Community:
Member BabyBrain asks the question: “What are some tricks I can use to get [my 3-year-old] moving a little quicker or at least keep her on task?” NPC members, find out by clicking the link below:
(If you’re not a member yet, but want to know more, click here.)


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