3-year-old Tom’s eyes are puffy and red. His mouth his trembling. Tears stream like little rivers around his chubby cheeks after his dad dropped him off.
What do you say?
Most well-meaning people and teachers will say, “it’s okay. It’s okay.” It’s a comforting phrase that’s been passed along for generations, even among intelligent, compassionate teachers.
But it doesn’t acknowledge how little Tom is feeling. In fact, it does the opposite. He isn’t “okay.”
Instead, what if we said, “I see that you’re crying. It sounds like something is bothering you. It looks like you’re sad.”
After labeling the emotion, empathize: “You’re sad because you miss your daddy. I miss my daddy sometimes too.”
Then help Tom regulate the emotion: “When I miss my dad, I like to read my favorite book called “Daddy and me.” May I read it to you?”
Acknowledging, labeling, and regulating emotions works. We’ve used this when teaching thousands of kids at Playful Tunes.
It works for adults as well. In tough times, like we’re having now, how might we support people facing uncertainty and fear?