“Daddy…should this hurt and make me cry?” How to teach drama


Kids fall and scrape their knees, chins and elbows.  They trip over their own feet, the Thomas train on the kitchen floor or the bump in the rug.  It is what it is.  

What is the first thing they usually do when this happens?  They look up to you to figure out how they should respond.  Agreed?  The ball is now in your hand.  What will you teach: drama or resiliency?  There are reams and reams of research that show how important resilience and the “resilient mindset” is to mental and behavioral health.  Everything from depression to anger problems to failed marriages can be linked, in part, to lack of resiliency.  Obviously, there many other factors that play a part with these things, but still, that’s pretty scary.  Sorry about that.

Kid’s bodies are incredibly resilient…something I learn every day.  How about their emotions, though?  You have more control than you think.  

My wife and I decided early on we wanted to pay attention to this.  When our son was learning to walk we decided we would clap and say “yay!” every time he fell.  WHAT?  “That’s just plain cruel,” you say.  “Not as cruel as the alternative,” I would say back.  What happened?  He learned that every fall is not a big deal.  He got over it at a time when he was only falling a few inches (the possibility of him actually hurting himself was very limited, and those times we attended to him).  

BUT, don’t listen to me just because I’m a dad.  Listen to the lesson about behavior: with each “fall,” with each scrape and bruise, they are looking to you to learn how to respond.  Yes, it does physically hurt them.  They will cry when they fall in your absence (meaning they are responding to the physical pain).  If you are solely responsible for making your child feel better, you are teaching your child complete dependence on other people to make them feel better.  You are also likely teaching him the louder he cries, the more soothing he will get.  I know…that’s harsh.  Sorry, again.

When this happens, go to them, make sure they are ok and assure them (quickly and calmly) that they are OK.  Redirect their attention: “hey look at that over there…isn’t that funny?”  Give them something physical to do: “hey can you hand me that baseball over there?”  Make a comment about the fall itself in a light way, “wow…you really took a spill, but you are up and at ‘em…sweet!”  Attending to the child, not the injury or the emotion.

There will be times when its not just a fall or a scrape. That is when you cruise in.  My son recently decided to play Superman off his swing when he was 5 feet in the air.  You can bet I swept him up, held him like a baby, patted his back and head, wiped his tears and uttered the famous words, “daddy’s here.”  It completely freaked me out.  I had to watch my emotions.  I did a once over, checked him out, asked him if he was OK, and then he was back on the swing.  

Although I use physical things as examples here, this also is true of other things like when they don’t get their way, or the indoor playground is closed, or (God forbid) the restaurant does not have something you promised them.  Think about how you respond when your kid falls or when something doesn’t go their way.  What are you teaching?

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