For almost nine years now, my work and schooling has consisted strictly of learning about and learning how-to help teach and grow children between the ages of three and five. I love preschoolers. I get preschoolers. They make sense to me and my responses to their comments and reactions come easily, after many years of practice. So, when one of my preschoolers is unconsolably crying and tells me that this situation makes them sad, I know just what to do. I usually sit down with them, pat them on the back or comfort them by being there, and then I tell them something like, “I can see you’re sad. Being sad when someone knocks over your toys makes sense, I can understand why you’re so sad. It’s OK to be sad.” And then usually I try to sit with them until they are able to calm themselves or until we come up with a plan to become happy again. For some children, this is a process that happens FAST. Like, two minutes and they’re right back up building a new and better tower. For other children, this takes much longer, sometimes 30 minutes and they still just can’t quite find it in them to re-build that amazing tower they had.
So, why, you ask, am I rambling about children and block towers?! Because, recently I was in a situation where someone I love, an adult, needed my consoling. They needed my pat on the back. My validation. They needed me to tell them it was completely OK to feel sad, that everyone feels sad sometimes, that what they were feeling was real and healthy.
What did I do instead? I tried to fix it. I tried to say, “Well guess what, XYZ will make it better!” and “I know someone who dealt with something similar and they’re totally fine now, better than fine!” I tried to put a bandaid, a disguise, a “get up and brush the dirt off” onto something that they were feeling. I did them a disservice.
Why am I so quick to validate and walk through the process with a preschool student of mine but so quick to dismiss these same feelings from an adult? Why do we all feel the need to fix the people we love? Maybe, just maybe, what they need is a pat on the back. They need us to listen as they cry or explain the reasons why this very situation makes them so sad. They need us to wait this out. They need us to stay silent. They need us to not make excuses and give solutions, they need us to say, “You’re sad. I can see that. It’s completely OK to feel sad about this. I’m here for you.”
Maybe, there’s a lot to be learned about life as an adult in a preschool classroom.
So, I’m writing this post as a reminder but also a call to action. The next time someone comes to you with something that is sitting heavy on their heart I urge you to:
Listen, don’t talk, don’t offer advice, just fully listen.
Give them a hug, a pat on the back, give them a virtual hug, or just be there physically for them.
Validate. Tell them that it’s OK to feel what they’re feeling, that their feelings are valid, true, real, and worthy of attention.
Be there. Continue to listen, continue to support, continue to validate, continue to physically, mentally, and emotionally be there.
I’m going to give this a try. I hope you will too. Let’s see what kind of good we can do to the world when we’re promoting the emotional health of our loved ones.