Positive ways to respond to children who are hurt or unwell

When a child is unwell or has hurt themselves, the response they receive from the adults around them can provide a very powerful message to them and may validate or negate their experience. If a child is responded to by being dismissed or told not to be upset, it may result in a child feeling they need to be strong, not show their feelings or share their vulnerability and feeling that their needs are not important. This can manifest in behaviours that are lacking in confidence, low self esteem and a child with a poor self image. However, if a child who is hurt or upset is responded to with sympathy and understanding they learn that it is good to do this for other people. Children learn through their experiences, so a child who is responded to in a caring way when they express their feelings is more likely to replicate this when they are in that situation.
If a child is frequently saying they are hurt or unwell they may be telling you that they are in emotional pain. If a child is hurting they just know “I don’t feel right”, they can get emotional and physical pain mixed up, especially if they have had negative responses or been ignored when they have voiced pain in the past. A child who is constantly saying they have stomach ache, feel sick or is showing you a miniscule mark on their hand and saying it hurts, is clearly telling you they are in pain. The school staff need to be consistent in their approach and respond with concern and compassion. It can be useful to teach children to self soothe for example, if a child says they have stomach ache respond by saying “That can really hurt, it can sometimes help if you rub your tummy gently.” When a child is crying in school for whatever reason, are they responded to with care and support? It can be useful to remember how we would like someone to respond to us if we were in the same situation. If a child is frequently saying they are hurting or feel unwell, ensure you check their physical and emotional wellbeing.

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