When your baby or child hurts themselves, do you deliberately or inadvertently distract them when they cry?
“It’s only a scratch / small bump”
“Brush it off”
“You’re such a brave boy/girl”
“Do you want a chocolate to cheer you up?”
Of course you don’t want your child to be hurt or upset. So it can seem like it makes sense to say things to help them to stop feeling or thinking about the pain and to go back to feeling OK again.
Maybe you’ve been brought up believing it’s shameful or weak to cry. And so you want your child to be brave & strong and cope with difficulties – without a massive outburst.
The thing is, our bodies are designed to cry.
It’s our natural, healthy stress-release mechanism.
The fact that you may be uncomfortable about this is due to the fact that you weren’t allowed to cry when you were little. Your parents, again for really good reasons, probably distracted or discouraged you from crying.
So even though you can intellectually know crying isn’t a sign of weakness, you can still really feel annoyed or irritated when your child has a massive outburst over a small bump.
The problem with distracting your child in those moments is that it interrupts the healing process. When you stop your child from crying, you don’t actually stop them from being hurt or feeling upset. You just stop them from crying.
The less opportunity your child has to cry about getting hurt, the more likely they are to become anxious about similar situations.
And that anxiety can build up over time, to the point that you’re then wondering why they’re afraid of riding their bike, or climbing up the tree or climbing frame, when you know they’re perfectly capable of doing those things.
So the next time your child hurts themselves, stop and allow them to have as big a cry about it as they need. They WILL stop when they’re finished. And then they will run off, happy to play, and probably to try to master that activity again.