You’re watching your kid happily run around the playground when she trips over her laces and comes tumbling down to the ground. She’s clearly fine (it was only a minor fall), but you can see her eyes welling up and the look of confusion on her face. While it’s tempting to quickly rush to her aid and tell her that she’s OK, Dr. Karol Darsa, a psychologist specializing in trauma, recommends this two-step approach instead.
(Note: The below advice is referring to non-serious trips, falls and tumbles. For anything that requires medical attention, you should of course speak with a doctor or health care professional.)
1. State the obvious
“First of all, parents should just state the obvious by making statements such as, ‘I see that you fell off your bike’ or ‘I know that you got scared when you fell off,’” says Dr. Darsa.
Why this is important: Your kid just scraped their knee, they don’t need you to say it out loud to realize what’s happened, do they? Actually, yes. It may not seem like telling someone that they fell down would be particularly comforting, but for kids who are still coming to grasp with so many physical and emotional sensations, it is helpful to hear their experiences validated. “The key here is to keep your voice neutral,” advises Dr. Darsa. “Validate the feeling in a calm manner without showing panic.”
Note: Phrases like ‘Don’t cry!’ or ‘You’re OK!’ are actually not so helpful. (Your kid is crying because he’s not OK). “We don’t want to give the message that being scared or angry is a bad thing,” explains Dr. Darsa. “Every feeling is welcome—it is about what you do with feelings.”
2. Comfort them
Once you’ve stated the obvious, it’s time to let your child know that you’re there for them. (Dr. Darsa also points out that this is a good time to assess if there are any injuries.)
Think: ‘Let’s see how your knee is doing’ or ‘You will feel better very soon, I am here with you.’
Why this is important: “Children model what they see,” Dr. Darsa tells us. “If they see a parent with a scared reaction then they’re going to learn that ‘falling’ or ‘getting hurt’ is a scary thing and they will start to associate the two.” (Cue your previously-adventurous kid never climbing up the monkey bars again.)
Instead, Dr. Darsa advises to remain calm and positive. “If they see that you are not panicking, then they will understand that they don’t need to panic.”
What's a good way to respond when your child sees another child get hurt?
Let’s say your kid sees another child at the playground fall down and get upset. While this is obviously not so fun for the injured party, this is actually a good opportunity for your kid to explore their feelings. “Children are very keen to pick up on others' emotions—acknowledge what they’re feeling,” says Dr. Darsa. “It’s good for children to identify different types of emotions—that way they have a sense of what emotions link to different feelings and responses,” she adds.
Here’s what you could say: ‘Your friend is crying. You are worried about him. What would you like to do?’ Should we go and see if he needs anything?’
Now your kid isn’t just learning how to climb up the slide—she’s getting a lesson in empathy and resilience, too.