Why Mayim Bialik Says You Shouldn’t Tell Your Kid “You’re OK”
“Don’t say ‘You’re OK.'” This recent piece of parenting advice shared by Mayim Bialik may make you groan at first, and who could blame you? Being a mom means living with the constant barrage of opinions coming at you from every direction, which causes a ton of anxiety. People have thoughts on every move a mother makes — from enforcing coats to leashes to, yes, what you say. But, if you hear this particular piece of insight, you might realize that its brilliance lies in just how simple it is and how much sense it makes.
It’s hard to guarantee that all the moves you’re making are the right moves (and tbh, most of them probably aren’t). You’re gonna f*ck it up at least a few dozen times. Fortunately, your kid most likely won’t remember when you stumbled but, instead, when you soared. Most importantly, they’ll remember how you fixed your mistakes. You can’t be perfect. You probably won’t even get anywhere close. If you at least try, though, you’re absolutely a “good mom.”
So, before diving into Bialik’s wisdom, take a minute to cut yourself some slack.
The Idea Behind the Advice
Bialik’s latest gem comes from a December episode of her podcast, Mayim Bialik’s Breakdown, during an interview with Dr. Becky Kennedy. You can find the whole episode on her website. However, what she says in the 23-second clip later shared on TikTok is worth pulling out to unpack.
“When a child falls, and let’s say they hurt themselves in their perception, when you say, ‘You’re OK,’ and they know that they’re not because they are scared or they are hurt, it is very confusing to a child’s mind to know that they’re not OK and the person that’s supposed to tell them what’s what is telling them you’re fine when they know they’re not,” shared Bialik. “It’s true emotionally. It’s true physically.”
Is that good parenting advice? Well, yeah. It is pretty good, actually.
“Parenting is a big job, and there’s a lot of information out there,” says Dr. Luz Casquejo Johnston of Parenting on Purpose. “That being said, I understand the advice about avoiding saying, ‘You’re OK.’ Children need to feel safe, and part of that is validation. When we say, ‘You’re OK” when a child is not OK, it invalidates their feeling and experience.”
Breaking the Habit
The last thing you want is to invalidate your child, but it’s hard not to say “You’re OK” in the moment. Sometimes you’re on the third meltdown of the morning, and you’re just ready for it to be over faster. Other times you might use “You’re OK” more as a reassurance than anything else. That doesn’t change how your child might perceive it, though, so it might be time to break up with”You’re OK.”
First, you have to understand where it comes from.
“In order to move forward from saying, ‘You’re OK,’ let’s acknowledge that this response comes from two places,” says Dr. Luz. “First, we heard this growing up either in our household or in school or some other setting. We are repeating a behavior that we have seen and probably see currently. Repeated patterns can be broken only if we notice them and make a conscious choice not to repeat them. This can take time. Second, this comes from a place of care. We want to show care and create connection when our children are upset or having a big emotional moment. To change the pattern, we have to understand what we don’t want (invalidation) and what we do want (care and connection).”
What To Say Instead
No matter the how and why of using “You’re OK,” there are options. Practicing saying one of these will help you get into the habit of using these phrases instead of other options.
“If we want to share care and connection, we can say something that lets the child know that we care,” says Dr. Luz. “‘I’m here’ is a good example that connects and validates.”
“I see you are upset.”
“Saying upset instead of sad or angry allows the child to name their own emotion,” says Dr. Luz. “Following up with ‘Tell me what you’re feeling’ will give your child the ability to name their own feeling. This is so empowering.”
How to Recover
Old habits die hard — especially in emotionally intense situations. So, how do you recover after accidentally saying “You’re OK?” The easiest solution is to follow up with one or both of the suggested phrases. The emotion and perceived meaning behind “You’re OK” drastically changes when you quickly add, “I’m here. I see you’re upset.” Most importantly, though, don’t beat yourself up.
“No one is perfect, and it’s easy to look at current trends or articles and immediately think something like ‘I’m no good at this. I don’t know what I’m doing,'” says Dr. Luz. “This is normal and natural, and I would offer first, be kind to yourself. Learning to break patterns can take time and will definitely take grace. Be kind to yourself if you slip. Be the encouraging person to yourself that you want to be for your child.”
Moral of the story? Bialik is right, of course. But change can take time and practice. It will no doubt come with stumbles. But if you’re trying, your child will recognize that. And saying “I’m sorry” to your kiddo is not only a great life lesson for them, but it’s also so sweet and humbling to hear their response.