I realized some time ago that I suck at comforting people (children) when they’re hurt or upset. I address these matters quite bluntly and with little finesse. “Oh, what happened?” “Are you okay?” “Let’s get you some ice/ a bandaid.” “That sounds horrible.” “It’ll be okay.” “Maybe…(inspire hope here)?”
It’s always sort of like, I see that you’re injured/upset and I have some things to assess the situation and help you out a bit. If this very basic response doesn’t work then I am out of party tricks and have no idea how to make you feel better outside of stare at you with visibly awkward discomfort. This works less when the child is very emotional and not able to utilize the rational parts of their brain.
Part of my response is rooted in a truth I remain aware of in these moments. I know that there’s honestly nothing I can do to make your stepped on finger or bumped head stop hurting immediately. The pain will subside and one must wait it out. I’m always willing to wait it out with you. In other instances I know that you will eventually get over the frustration of losing a game over and over or of leaving your kindle at home. I don’t feel compelled to go the extra mile because these frustrations are a part of life and ultimately there’s a lesson to learn from the temporary unhappiness.
Sometimes I don’t immediately engage. One reason is because it’s tiring. My kids get hurt multiple times a day in multiple ways. I’d suffer from adrenal fatigue OR inadvertently become an olympic athlete if I leaped at every fall and wail. Another reason is because they really do move on in a matter of seconds. Sometimes I’m allowing for the opportunity for one of their peers to console them. Other moments I want to make sure they are well enough to stand up and walk to me.
I still often find myself faced with a kid who is hurt in some way, is very upset about it, and I’ve run out of words and deeds that might comfort them.
When one of them gets hurt and another adult is handling it, I try to file away all the things they say and do so I can use it the next time I need it. My codirector, Julia, is great at the comforting stuff. She has a patience and word bank for emotional processing that I can’t fathom. I’m learning a lot of little tricks from watching her interact with the kids post physical/emotional injury.
The simplest one that I’ve started to practice is asking “Is there anything you need?” or “How can I help you?” It doesn’t address every situation but it has helped some.
Comforting folks is definitely more art than science. Everyone is different and their needs vary based on the nature of the pain. I’m experimenting still.