Husband: “Ow! I just stubbed my toe!”
Wife: “Oh, you’re ok.”
Friend: “I am so mad right now. I can’t believe I spilled ketchup on my brand new shirt!”
Other Friend: “It’s ok. It’s just a shirt .”
Wife: “I am so tired. I barely got any sleep last night.”
Husband: “You’re Ok. Just drink some coffee”
Mom: Sobbing. “I am so sad.”
Grandmother: “There there. You’re Ok.”
What do all of these scenarios have in common? Invalidation. Invalidation is when a person’s thoughts or feelings are dismissed, ignored, rejected, or judged, whether intentional or not.
Now replace these adults with a child.
Child falls down and starts to cry.
Parent: “Brush it off. You’re Ok.”
Child cries because they wanted the red cup instead of the blue one.
Parent: “It’s ok. It’s just a cup.”
Child is startled and begins to cry.
Parent: “Oh, you’re ok.”
The adult versions seem less acceptable, albeit still happen frequently, but the child version of “you’re ok,” I hear on a daily basis.
Parents trying to soothe a child by telling them they are ok. Parents trying to do anything possible to quiet the child before they become very loud. Parents trying to toughen kids up so they can take a punch to the kidneys without batting an eyelash.
There’s only one not-so-tiny problem with telling someone they are ok: they are not. And it isn’t our place to tell other people how they should feel.
If someone is crying over an upset, they are not ok.
When someone says they are mad/sad/broken-hearted/scared, they are not ok.
If someone says they are not ok, they are not ok!
This is true regardless of size or age.
Asking vs. Telling Someone How They Feel makes a huge difference
What we should be saying to someone when they are showing distress is “Are you ok?” It doesn’t matter if they appear ok after a fall. It’s still polite and right to, at the very least, ask them.
There’s a term called gaslighting. According to the dictionary, it means “manipulating someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.” We could call this whole conversation unintentional gaslighting.
Let’s say I’m a child, and I say or show that I’m hurt, and someone tells me I’m ok and that I’m not hurt, I might question my own judgment. “Am I hurt? It feels like I’m hurt. But they say I’m not. So maybe I’m not hurt. Or maybe they don’t want to hear that I’m hurt so I’ll just pretend that I’m not hurt so that I don’t upset them.”
I’ve also met some parents who tell their child they are ok, “because if I ask them if they are ok, it makes them cry.” Asking a simple question doesn’t make anyone do anything. If a child needs to cry, they will. If they don’t, they won’t.
I understand where these parents are coming from though because I was that child. If someone asked if I was ok it didn’t make me cry, but it allowed a space for me to cry. I was always told that I was ok, or to stop crying, so being offered an opportunity to release those emotions, to truly feel heard, is a powerful experience, especially for children who aren’t given that gift very often.
The difference may seem subtle between “you’re ok” and “are you ok?” But it is huge. Instead of intentionally or unintentionally dismissing someone else’s feelings, especially a child’s, we can teach them emotional intelligence by asking them how they feel, instead of telling them how they feel. It may surprise you how such a simple question can nurture the connection in your relationship.