Recently, I was walking, minding my own business, when I tripped and fell... hard. It was not pretty. Pretend, just for a moment, that the person who saw the whole thing came up to me, picked me right up, dusted off my clothes, and then told me, "Don't cry! You're okay!"
let me just tell you right here and now that it would not go over well.
Yet, so often, we do the same thing to kids. We see them fall, hear them cry, and immediately make it our goal to make them stop crying. We pick them up, we dust them off, and we tell them how okay they are.
I understand where this instinct comes from. If we overreact to a child's falls or accidents, they seem to pick up on our panic and everything escalates into hysterics. Ain't nobody got time for that.
However, by simply dismissing that our kids may feel sad/hurt/frustrated/mad/whatever about what just happened to them, we are not doing them any favors either. Teaching children how to behave well when they're upset is far more productive than merely telling them that they shouldn't be feeling the way they do.
besides, it's kind of insulting, don't you think?
I can tell you from my own recent fall that, although I was actually in a lot of pain (turns out, I snapped my ring finger in two, and severely damaged my pinky in the process), I was actually feeling a lot of things at the time. I was frustrated that I fell, I was mad at myself, I was sad because I could tell I was going to have to have my wedding ring cut off, and I was a little scared because my fingers did not look so good. More than anything, I was seriously embarrassed. Thankfully, the people who saw me biff it hard on the pavement didn't just brush me off, they were kind and compassionate- asking if I was okay, checking to see what was hurt, and then assuring me there was nothing to be embarrassed about. I was so grateful for the compassion and respect.
Don't our own kids/students deserve the same?
Instead, try the following alternatives for helping a child who's crying over what is probably a minor injury (if it's a major injury, do not pass go, call for help and attend to the injuries!):
Find out what the fuss is about.... ask, "Are you mostly mad or mostly sad?" or "Are you hurt or frustrated?" To help your child/students know there is a difference- and maybe think about why they are crying. Knowing this will help you move on to the next step.
Find out what they need... Once you've figured out the reason for the tears, now you can help them care for the issue. If they're sad, ask if they would like a hug. If they're slightly hurt, maybe a wet paper towel or an ice pack will help. If they were scared, perhaps a drink of water. You'll find that the crying ceases faster when you attend to needs instead of trying to command the tears to stop flowing.
Give a little space... Sometimes, I just need to take a minute to assess the situation myself. Especially if I'm embarrassed, I may need to be left alone. Offering a few minutes to calm down may be just what the doctor ordered. "Would you like a minute? I can come back to check on you in a minute if you want."
Draw boundaries if necessary... in some situations, it's not appropriate to just let the child do whatever s/he would like to do. If they are in a dangerous spot, let them know that they need to move (away from the door, out of the street, etc) and ask if they would like to move on their own or if they would like help. (obviously, if they are not safe, then staying there is not a choice- choose for them if they are in a bad place) If they are screaming unnecessarily, once you've determined that they are not severely injured, explain that they can still cry, but they need to stop screaming (give the reason- because you are waking the other kids, you are hurting people's ears, etc). Setting healthy boundaries for expressing feelings is a great life skill!
I think one of the best tools for a caregiver (teacher or parent equally!) is the realization that children are people. When we treat children the way that we would like to be treated, we are much more likely to teach them -- not to only behave better in rough situations, but to also teach them to treat others with dignity and compassion, too.