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Close up of a toddler wiping a tear from his eye

Pay Attention to Your Child’s Feelings

Spring is here. This means warmer weather and longer days. It also means that for a period of time, we’ll experience a light dusting of green pollen covering just about everything outside. For Keira and me, this time of year is when our allergies really start to become uncomfortable. Luckily, our symptoms are at a point where they are mostly manageable, but at the start of allergy season, we tend to struggle for a bit as our bodies adjust.

One of Keira’s allergy symptoms affects her eyes. This happens to me as well and I use drops to help alleviate the urge to rub them. The other day, I decided that these drops could help Keira’s allergies as well. Although she was on board with the idea initially, when it came time to actually use the eye drops, things didn’t go as planned. During the first attempt, Keira refused to open her eyes, and the solution dried up before it had a chance to become effective. On the second attempt, the next day, she started to cry before and during the process, essentially washing the solution out of her eyes.

As a parent, it can be frustrating when your child is resistant to something that you know is best for them or will help them ultimately feel more comfortable. I tried to tell her that eye drops weren’t a big deal, and I encouraged her to be brave. I provided her with examples of past moments when she’d been fearless. I told her that the eye drop solution was just like water and didn’t hurt. All of those strategies did nothing to calm her down, and I couldn’t figure out why she was “overreacting” to something that could be so simple.

I sat her down and asked her what was going on. Why was she so afraid of the eye drops? Typically, as most kids do when talking about feelings, she’ll respond by saying, “I don’t know.” I do think that some kids, especially at her age of 4, truly don’t know what they’re feeling or how to describe it for someone else to understand. Other kids say it as a way to avoid talking about the experience. I encouraged her to think about what was going on for her, and she finally said, “I’ve just never done eye drops before.” Although the statement was simple and obvious, it made me pause and think, and I realized that her reaction made sense. I tried to put myself in her shoes and empathize. Getting eye drops is a new experience for her, which can be scary, regardless of how harmless or painless the process actually is. It wasn’t a matter of her not being brave or overreacting, she was just nervous to try something new.

This reminded me that there are always feelings behind our kid’s behavior. We can’t make assumptions about how they are going to respond or feel about a certain situation. If we do, it can lead to dismissing their feelings and becoming more punitive rather than empathetic. By being able to check in with our kids about their feelings, thoughts, and reactions, we gain more insight into their world. This makes it easier for us, as parents, to work with our kids on developing a solution that works for everyone.

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About Z. Andrew Jatau, LPC

About Z. Andrew  Jatau, LPC

Z. Andrew is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the founder of Mylemarks, an online company that develops social-emotional resources to use with kids and teens. Through that company, he creates content such as digital downloads, workbooks, and children’s books. He’s an adjunct professor in the Human Services department at Old Dominion University, and serves as the Fatherhood Consultant for CHKD’s Dads in Action program. When he’s not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, cooking, and listening to music.