Why I No Longer Tell My Son 'You're OK' When He's Crying – Healthline

Why I No Longer Tell My Son 'You're OK' When He's Crying – Healthline

There is no sweeter sound than a baby’s laughter — and none more distressing than their cries.
When my son is upset, every cell of my being wants to make him feel better. From silly faces to too tight hugs to shushes and bounces, I am willing to try everything in those moments to get him to stop crying, and I hope he does so instantaneously.
For a long time, I believed that it was my job to take away his pain. When he was younger, that responsibility seemed somewhat tangible. If he was hungry, we fed him. If he was tired, we (tried to) put him to sleep. If his diaper was soiled, we changed it.
But as he got older, he would sometimes continue to cry even after we had solved the “problem.” His emotions lingered longer than the source, and that is when something shifted for me.
I realized that it is not my job to take my child’s pain away. In fact, in my well-intentioned efforts to do so, I may have been inadvertently making him feel worse.
Let me explain.
Our son, like both of his parents, is a feeler. We knew it from day one, when he entered this world with his eyes wide open, absorbing everything around him.
And he’s always been excellent at expressing those feelings. My husband remarked what a good communicator he was even at just a few days old, since he seemed to cry with specificity.
But as he got bigger, so did his feelings — and suddenly he was not just sad or upset about the present moment. He began to realize that things exist even when they are no longer seen, and for the first time, he was feeling the emotion of missing and the experience of loss.
I distinctly remember the first time he cried because of separation anxiety. His dad would usually put him to sleep, and though there were often nighttime resistance tears, this one evening was different.
He was inconsolable, and it was a different kind of cry than we had ever heard before: gulping sobs leading to hiccup-like breaths. My husband went through the checklist. Diaper? Room temperature? Hair tourniquet? Hunger?
I came into the room and it was clear what he needed: Mama.
I pulled him into my arms right away, but it still took him a long time to calm down. Nothing seemed to be working, and I kept repeating the phrase “You’re OK. You’re OK” as though I could will him to stop crying with my words.
But it was not helping. The more I said it, the more upset he seemed to be, and I had this vision of him as a pre-teen, an adolescent, even as an adult, coming to me in a time of high stress or grief and me saying, “You’re OK.” How would that make him feel?
How does it make me feel when my loved ones tell me I’m fine when I’m upset? Not great. And yet we say this to one another all the time. Our intentions are, of course, good. We want the other person to be OK.
But the reality is that in that moment, he was not OK. Far from it. And the more I tried to convince him he was, the more I was denying his feelings.
In a way, when we tell someone they are fine when they are clearly not, we are inadvertently telling them that what they are feeling is wrong. When we do this with our children, we are teaching them to deny their experience.
In that moment, he was sad and scared, and not only was it totally understandable for him to feel that way, it was right because it was his truth.
So, as I rubbed his back and held him tight, I decided to try something different. I began to talk through his experience.
I told him that I understood what it felt like to miss someone. I reflected how painful that must have been to need me and not know where I was. I reassured him that I was there with him now and that it was OK to feel sad. I encouraged him to let it out and told him that I would sit with him for as long as he needed me to.
As I told him these things, his crying changed. His breathing slowed down, he let out a huge sigh, and he nuzzled into my shoulder, finally falling asleep.
Maybe it changed simply because time had passed or because the tone of my voice softened. Or maybe this little 12-week-old really understood what I was saying. I prefer to think the latter.
As he is now a full-blown toddler, we have experienced all kinds of new cries as he experiences all kinds of new pains — from frustration when he does not get his way to physical pain when he bumps his head to fear when he is faced with something outside of his comfort zone.
I stifle that knee-jerk impulse to want to tell him he is OK and instead tell him to take a deep breath, using that moment to do the same for myself.
Even shifting the line from “You are OK” to “It is OK” changes the entire meaning of my words and his experience of them. And then we feel all that he is feeling, together.
My hope for him is that he remains this sensitive into adulthood. I feel like there is a lot of pressure out there, especially for little boys, to “grow up” and “toughen up.” But when we start denying or trying to mask our emotions, we unintentionally end up dulling the good ones, too.
It is not my job to take my son’s pain away. It is my job to teach him to be in all of his emotions, so when he feels joy, he will be able to experience it in its entirety.
Sarah Ezrin is a mama, writer, and yoga teacher. Based in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband, son, and their dog, Sarah is changing the world, teaching self-love to one person at a time. For more information on Sarah please visit her website.



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