I walked across the crowded playground on a recent sunny winter afternoon to spot Miles while he climbed a structure. A tiny tot, younger than three, tripped and fell as I passed. I stopped to comfort him while he was crying and waiting for a caregiver. The adult walked over, didn’t offer any physical touch, and stated, “You’re ok! Look, you’re ok. Wipe it off. Good. You’re fine.”
This is a common scenario at playgrounds. If there are children and parents present (or any form of caregiver, for that matter), stick around long enough and these words will inevitably be heard. “It’s ok. You’re fine.”
Each time I observe this, it makes my heart sink. The child is in pain. The child wants comfort. A hug, words that remind them they are treasured. “Ouch. That looked like it hurt. Are you okay?”
I understand some roots of the response. I don’t believe it’s sparked from a mean spirited heart or place of cruelty. I believe it reflects a desire for all to be well, all of the time. A desire to foster a kid that looks and feels good most of the time. Maybe to save face? Maybe to maintain a reputation? Maybe a subconscious reflection of gender stereotypes? Maybe. I don’t know what it is for any given parent on any given day. I’m sure the reasons are diverse.
I clearly remember a time with my then five-year-old son on my lap while he bawled- wailed, really- for at least five minutes after a fall that didn’t leave nary a scrape. As I held him, I realized I didn’t see many five-year-old boys crying anymore. A little embarrassment crept into my heart. All of a sudden, his wails felt excessive, dramatic, maybe even a little attention seeking. I had the urge to quiet him, to squelch his emotional surge so that I would feel more comfortable.
Were his tears about that fall? Maybe not. He was tired, he was hungry. He might’ve had something else disappoint him earlier in the day that he hadn’t processed. But none of that matters. I want him to be able to freely express his emotions, positive or negative. I want him to know I am a walking warm owie pack, frequently-used-as-a-tissue mom, who will hold him as long as he needs. Even if the tears aren’t about the fall. Even if I feel embarrassed. Even if I think he’s faking it. I want to error on the side of compassion.
I sympathize with the desire to have painful moments quickly roll past me and my children. I want my children to not feel extended moments of pain. I want my children to feel empowered and strong, resilient and able to take a fall.
But the problem is, their lives will be filled with countless moments of pain. The scraped knees of today will be broken hearts tomorrow. The tears because a peer won’t share today will be tears because a peer gossiped tomorrow. Resilience isn’t built without challenge.
If I communicate that I don’t care about the little owies today, I fear they won’t know I care about the wounds of tomorrow. The bulldozer losing a wheel matters to him. Missing the class party is painful. The stakes only get higher, so today I set the tone that I care. I care about their owies. I care about their sadness.
Let them cry. Please, let them cry. Hold them as long as they need. Reflect their emotions. Our children will be so much stronger for it. The child who cries is also the child who is shows compassion. The child who expresses frustration is also the child who celebrates victory. The child who grieves is also the child who heals.