The problem with “You’re OK”

One common phrase we, as parents, have tried to avoid using is the classic “You’re OK”. It seems like a perfectly harmless phrase and I understand why it’s used so frequently. The kid falls, hurts himself and you quickly pat his back and say, “You’re OK” because you want him to be OK and diffuse the situation as quickly as possible.

justfleshwoundDaniel is approaching two, which seems to be an especially accident prone age. So we have more stumbles and falls than we’re used to. I’ve let the phrase “You’re OK” slip and noticed a huge difference in his reaction compared to avoiding the phrase and acknowledging his feelings.

When he falls and I tell him he’s OK, I’ve noticed he starts crying harder. Obviously he is OK, we don’t need to call paramedics because he tripped at the park. But he is hurting and that’s why he’s crying. Aside from invalidating his feelings, saying, “You’re OK”, in my experience, is a surefire way to prolong the crying. First he’s crying because he’s hurt, then he’s crying because he wants you to know and acknowledge that he’s hurt.

When you think about it, it is an incredibly frustrating response to hear when you’re hurt. Imagine you’re in labor, squeezing your partner’s hand and grunting through a contraction. Then you look up at his face for comfort and with a blank expression he says, “You’re OK.” …Not a good idea.

My husband’s a therapist. We often joke and refer to him as having a Master’s degree in feelings, which comes in handy because he’s especially good at things like this. The other day, he was holding Daniel’s hand when Daniel took a nasty fall. I was following behind and noticed the little guy fell pretty hard and his knee was instantly scraped. He scooped Daniel up and rubbed his back while Daniel cried and laid his head on his shoulder.

“Aww, that was a bad fall,” my husband said.

“Yeah!” Daniel sniffed.

“I’ll bet that hurts, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah!”

“I know, buddy. It’ll stop hurting in just a minute.”

“Ok!”

By the time we got to our car, Daniel had stopped crying and was OK. I feel certain letting him cry and emphasize with him during his moments of hurting really helped him cope. All this may sound silly, but if you have a toddler, you know these moments happen all the time and even if it’s just a scraped knee, it’s still hard to see your child hurting.

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3 thoughts on “The problem with “You’re OK”

  1. Kimberly says:

    Yes!! I mentioned this to my husband a couple weeks ago and we have noticed a positive change in our son when we don’t use that phrase. He definitely moves on much faster when we take the time to validate his feelings/emotions rather than brush them aside!

  2. Lindsey says:

    I definitely do this! Izzy is the MOST accident prone kid I have ever met. If there is an accident to be had, you can be sure Izzy will find it. She has fallen down my grandparents stairs 3 Christmas’ in a row now. It’s that bad. She gets it from her father who had tripped and fallen no less than 5 times within just the first 3 months of our dating way back when. I don’t use the exact phrase “You ARE ok” I always say “It WILL BE ok”. I always check to make sure she’s not bleeding (bleeding is the equivalent of death to her) and after I’ve thoroughly checked her out and can confirm she’s not dying, I tell her “It will be ok”. Only then can she assume a renewed sense of calm. In her case, she’s looking for confirmation that she’s not going to die and the world isn’t going to implode. She has tears streaming, snot smearing and hiccups going on until I say that. Then it’s like a switch and she really is “ok”. For her, she NEEDS me to say it will be ok. But either way, we can all use a reminder that our kids are people with emotions and feelings that need to be heard too. There’s a lot more communication at our house when they’ve made a mistake. I’ve never been one to simply say “Go to your room” as punishment. We always talk about how they felt when they made a bad choice; what feelings caused them to make it. How did they feel after they made that choice and how it made other people feel (in the instances they hit their brother or pushed their sister or something) and what they could do next time they were in that situation or feel that same way again. A lot of parents get wrapped up in their own lives or get stressed or tired and forget how important it is to LISTEN to our kids and to understand how they feel. I don’t always remember either but it makes all the difference in our kids’ behavior when they feel they’ve been heard and understood!

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