Why Kids Can't Answer, "What's Wrong?"

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Have you ever known a young child to cry, shriek, jump up and down, throw themselves on the floor? (Really, you have? Me too, go figure! ;) 

My instinct is to say, "what's wrong?" Sometimes my tone communicates concern.  Other times it's more demanding or dismissive. (I'm less proud of the latter.) 

Kids don't usually answer very fully. I think it's because they don't fully know why they're losing it. If they could say what's wrong, I bet it would sound something like this:

  • I am frustrated because what I'm trying to do is so challenging for me. And I'm worried that I may never master this skill or others that big kids are capable of. 
  • I feel conflicted about growing-up.  In moments like these what I really want is to be snuggled by my mom.
  • I miss my mom.
  • And I'm hungry.
  • I don't like feeling this overwhelmed, I don't know how to calm down, I'm scared.
  • The music is annoying me.
  • And so on

It's no wonder they can't answer, "what's wrong?" Truth is, when I'm really upset I can't answer that question either.

What we can do is empathize. In such a moment we can remember how complex and overwhelming a child's feelings can be.  This unlocks our ability to have compassion as they learn to cope. 

We can't fix their feelings, or talk the child out of them (doesn't work, I've tried.) Instead we can listen, steer clear of a power struggle, set limits around behavior and above all else stay close and stay kind.