Are You Hurt or Are You Scared? Deescalating Your Crying Child

Raising boys is a series of bulk band-aid purchases and doctor’s visits. As they grow older, I’m finding I panic less and continue to raise the bar on what warrants a hospital visit (for me, the fall has to at least be from something higher than the couch). I thought that once my children were able to talk, figuring out where they were hurt would be a lot easier, but I still found myself holding and rocking them while they cried inconsolably with seemingly no injuries.

It was after one of my son’s frequent playground falls that I realized he wasn’t really hurt – he was scared. The crying, and need for me to hold him, is his body’s reaction to processing the spike in adrenaline and fear that he just felt in that situation. He didn’t need first aid – he needed to feel safe.  I asked him a simple question, in a calm, soothing voice, “are you hurt or are you scared?” His crying quieted as he thought about my question – and then he answered me. He was scared. I verbally agreed with him that what happened looked scary, and then I explained to him that I was holding him now, so  he was safe. He stopped crying.

20180219_173048Could have been a fluke, right? Well, as a mother of TWIN boys, I have had the opportunity over the years to test out this practice pretty frequently, and it works every time. It doesn’t even have to be a situation where they may have been injured. When one got stuck in the mud (because, boys) it became quite a production to dig him out. Once he realized how stuck he was, he started crying and complaining he ‘was hurt’. As my friend was untying his shoes under the mud to pull his feet out (seriously) I used the same theory to deescalate his panic. Gaining his attention with a clear, calm voice, I explained to him that he was safe, and that he would be out soon. I told him that he was scared, but was not hurt and that he would be OK. He was then able to process his feeling of fear, and became an active participant in digging himself out.

Recognizing and properly dealing with anxieties can prepare young people to handle challenging situations in life. I’ve been thinking more and more about this as I begin conversations with them about what they will do in emergencies, such as a “bad person” coming into their school. I don’t want them to freeze when they are scared. The more opportunities they have to recognize what fear feels like to their body, the better prepared they are to handle a scary situation which requires action.

So ask yourself the next time you are holding your child as they cry – are they hurt, or are they scared?


Disclosure – I have no medical training. This is just my opinion/theory as a busy mother of twin boys who finds herself doing a lot of rocking and soothing. I hope it helps you the next time your little one is upset after a scary incident – please let me know how it works for you!



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