Freedom to Grieve

Protecting grief from "closure," consumerism, politics, and other cultural distortions

Are You Good at Comforting Others?

How we can teach children and others to comfort

My daughter stood in the kitchen with me as I put dishes away. I turned my head and whacked it hard into the corner of an open cupboard door. My head throbbed as I cried out in pain. You know, that cry of agony right before your ability to breathe disappears momentarily.

My daughter cried out, "Mommy!" After a moment, I managed to say, "I'm okay, honey. It just hurts. But I'll be fine.”

She stood beside me as I held my head. She gently patted my arm and gave me a sweet hug. She just waited with me as the pain slowly receded.

When I could talk better, I said to her, “You are good at comforting. Where did you learn how to do that? She says, "From you."

It was one of those moments when I thought, “I guess I'm doing something right in my parenting.”

 We can't prevent people from hurting. And we can't speed the pain along. But we can offer a gentle presence. We can wait along side someone who is hurting. And while offering a calm, quiet presence, we might show others how to comfort, too.

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I often see parents brushing off their kids' injuries or troubles. Some parents fear that if they "baby" their kids whenever they fall, then they will not grow up "tough." For me, I've wanted to make sure my kids know their emotions and pain are important. I want them to know they can share their fears and sadness. I'm far from perfect in doing this. But when experiencing my daughter comforting me, I realized that she was not afraid to be there with me in my pain.

Don't avoid people's sadness and tears or even cries of agony. We don't like to see pain in others, but don't be afraid to step into the hurt with them. Give them time and space to express sorrow while you stand by as a calming presence.

My head hurt for a few days. However, my daughter’s gentle and loving care stays with me always.

Nancy Berns, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Drake University and the author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us.

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