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Today's Family Magazine

Why saying "you're OK" is not OK

By Cathy Huser, Director, Thrive Arts Center

I have been teaching Kindermusik for 23 years. Most classes go very smoothly as we dive deep into the benefits of why we do what we do.  The children are adorable, the adults love participating with their little ones, and most of the classes help create lasting friendships.

Well, every so often something we try in class might not go so well.  Have you ever noticed that when one baby cries, another starts crying, and another….and so on?

Our energy downloads onto those around us. This was the story of this particular class one Monday morning.

I chose a favorite activity - hammocking.  We rock the babies to the beat of the music to help stimulate their vestibular system.  One baby started crying, then another, then another, and I said to the class, “Oh boy, this is not going as planned today.”  The parents giggled a bit, then one by one carefully picked up their baby, hugged them and said to their baby, “you’re OK.”

I’m sure you can relate.  Your child cries, you hug them and say, “you’re OK.”

My question to you is, why are you saying "you're OK" to your child?

What do you mean by "you're OK?" What does “OK" mean? What's OK about this situation?

If you, as an adult, fall and sprain your ankle, and your partner says, "you're OK," you get kind of mad, and you get frustrated because you think to yourself, "I'm not OK, this hurts like heck!"

So, if I'm NOT OK, why are you telling me that I AM OK? I'm not OK and now I'm even more agitated!

This can happen in your child's mind too.

Your child may get even more upset if you say to them, "you're OK, you're OK," because they think you don't understand or care about what they're feeling.  When you turn and say to them, "you're OK," you are actually dismissing their feelings.

When you say to your child, "you're OK," it sounds like you're saying, "you're OK, you're not hurt." But they ARE hurt.

Or, "you're OK, there’s nothing to be scared of." But they ARE scared.

What you really mean is, "Mommy's here, you're safe."  Or, "Daddy's here, you're safe."

So how can you learn to say things other than "you're OK?"  One of the best ways to stop saying “you’re OK” is to truly notice what's happening to your child.  Noticing helps create connections between you and your child.

If your child seems upset, frustrated, angry, or scared, here's what to do:
  1. Take three deep belly breaths.  Three belly breaths helps compose you.  Remember your calm will begin to download onto them.
  2. Look into their eyes, touch them, hold their hand, and wait for eye contact.
  3. Then explain to them, "Emma, you fell and scraped your knee. It hurts when you scrape your knee.  You're safe, I'm here with you. You're safe.  Breathe with me."
Or, you notice your son seems very frustrated and angry.
  1. Three deep breaths.
  2. Touch them, hold their hand, and wait for eye contact.
  3. "Jacob, you wanted another cookie and they're all gone.  You seem frustrated.  It's hard when you want another cookie and there are no more cookies to eat.  There will be cookies to eat another time.  Breathe with me.  You're safe, breathe with me."
By acknowledging what has just happened to your child and recounting it, they realize you're noticing them, you are understanding how they are feeling, and now you're making a connection.

This is what will soothe your child because they realize, "Oh, Mommy understands how I feel about this.”  Or, "Daddy understands how I feel."  You're acknowledging and noticing them.

So next time you are tempted to tell your child they are OK, pause, learn how to notice and acknowledge, and make that loving connection.

Cathy’s passion is helping parents help their children. She credits many early childhood experts, including Dr. Becky Bailey of Conscious Discipline. Visit for info.