“It’s okay” and “you’re okay” are common phrases. Most of us have heard and used them all our lives, especially for calming down upset children. But I like to take a serious look at the things we communicate to our children and to each other.
You and I have adult-sized brains and life experience, and we know that it often is “going to be okay.” But even so, in the moment we’re upset, we’re feeling whatever we’re feeling, and that feels real–right? If a baby is crying… then it really doesn’t feel okay to her. In other words, it’s really not okay. Babies are in-the-now, new to Earth’s realities, and they express their honest feelings–until they learn to squelch them.
If you find yourself saying “it’s okay, darling” (it’s a hard habit to break!), I encourage you to change it up a bit. Something like: “It’s okay to cry,” “that was scary for you,” “you sound angry,” “you bumped your head, did it hurt?”–an acknowledgement of feelings being felt or of what just happened, rather than just “it’s okay.”
This will help preserve her trust in her own feelings and intuition. For if Baby feels that it’s not okay, but we say it is okay, we have just created a conflict–a potentially confusing internal mismatch that eventually can lead to mistrust or denial of one’s feelings. Think of manipulative or abusive situations that could happen later in childhood or adulthood. We want to make sure our children stay safe, right? How do we truly empower them to know the difference between safe and unsafe situations? What if an abuser or kidnapper were to say “it’s okay, honey…”? What if the child gave in, bypassing her internal red flags because she’s used to adults knowing (and telling her) what’s okay and what’s not. We want her to trust her gut feelings that it’s really not okay.
So, in a counter-intuitive way, not saying “it’s okay” now, when we assume from our adult perspective that it really will be okay, builds trust and healthy communication skills for recognizing situations when someone with ‘power’ says “it’s okay” but it’s really not.
That’s an extreme, but extremes are all around us. On the loving-home front, this will support good stuff like self-trust, honest communication, and emotional literacy. The ability to identify our emotions is an important skill that many adults actually find very difficult. No wonder!
For another read on “It’s okay,” see this post by Good Job And Other Things You Shouldn’t Say Or Do.”
For more info about how to support a crying baby/child, without ignoring or distracting, see Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting books.
© Eliza Parker 2012, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)
Much of my work comes from Infant Developmental Movement Education®, part of the Body-Mind Centering® Approach to Somatic Education, and Dr. Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting. I am a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, Feldenkrais® Practitioner, and Spiritual Counselor.