We started Words For Parenting because sometimes, as a parent you just don’t know what to say. Lettering by Alanna Munro, Words by Jacquie Munro.

I Hear You

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Little kids have big emotions that seem to be set off by the smallest things sometimes. If we acknowledge their feelings and say “I hear you” we let them know that their emotions are valid, which helps them work through their feelings and move on.

3 year old: “Turn Paw Patrol back on! Turn it on!” Stomp stomp flail

I remember to breathe, then get down to his physical level, accepting and mirroring his emotions like my best friend in high school would in each daily crisis. I don’t attempt an adult discussion on the appropriate amount of screen time. He can’t control his strong emotions, but I can help him to name them.

Me: “I hear you!” I say, matching his expression. “You REALLY want me to turn on Paw Patrol again. It makes you SO SAD when I turn it off. Sometimes I want to watch my favourite show all day, too! (One day he will learn about Netflix binges) But it’s time to do something new.”

3 year old: He looks at my face, quizzically. Is he thinking, “She GETS me!?” He frowns.

Me: I can help him to move forward by giving him a choice. “The show is over. We’re both hungry. We can make lunch next. You and Teddy can help me make lunch or play together. Where is Teddy hiding?”

Off he runs to find Teddy. A choice is made.

This encounter makes me think of birthing women. As the intensity of labour builds and a woman reaches a crisis point, she cries out. I often find myself saying, “I hear you! This is strong. So much. Almost too much. Why don’t you try something new. You can match your voice to the power, or you can try stomping.”

I hear them, I bear witness to their experience, I accept their emotions, offer simple choices, for as long as it takes.

If, instead, I dismissed their emotions by saying, “You’re okay” “You’re fine” “You don’t need to get worked up!” or attempted an adult discussion during labour, imagine the response I’d get! But these are the exact words that we can automatically say to children when they are overwhelmed, hurt, or in crisis.

If we inhabit the world of our children, imagining ourselves in their bodies, we can feel their overwhelming and confusing thought-shapes and emotions. We can mirror those feelings and help them put them into words and actions.

We can match their emotions, reflect their words, give simple choices. This acknowledges them as individuals, honours their feelings, supports their autonomy.

For children and for adults, using respectful words takes some practice and patience. But don’t we all deserve it?

It all begins with a simple “I hear you!”

Further reading

When Your Kid Bosses You Around
Parent Do Overs — 7 Confidence Building Responses

Alanna Munro