One moment she was sitting upright on the kitchen chair, and the very next she was wailing from the floor. She had tumbled off and her startled cries were penetrating the silence.

Had she positioned her chair too distant from the table? Was she sitting properly or jumping clumsily, too perilously close to the edge of her chair? Was she being too fidgety?

Perhaps any and all of the above.

But did it matter? Right now, she was sitting forlorn on the floor, tears coursing down her reddened cheeks, howling in distress.

Don't we all fall? And don't we yearn for an empathetic embrace, a hug or a word of encouragement?

Did she get injured or was it merely the sudden shock that upset her? Was she really in pain, or was she making too big a deal of this?

I'm not sure.

But does it matter? Right now she sits crying. She is waiting. Waiting for me to scoop her up into my outstretched arms. Waiting for me to swathe her in my warm and loving embrace. Waiting for me to envelop her with empathy.

Then she wants to hear me asking her—and really listening—where does it hurt? She wants to point to it and have me kiss it away. This will make the bad, the frustration and the anger magically disappear. This will make it all better.

Now her tears have dried, her heaves of uncontrolled breathing have calmed. She's even flashed me her bright, sunny smile.

Now we can talk about the "next times." Now we can explore how to avoid these falls and stumbles in the first place. Now she is receptive. Now she will even suggest her own practical pointers.

She is my three-year-old in one of the ordinary and countless stumbles of her little every day life.

But don't we all fall? And don't we yearn for an empathetic embrace, a hug or a word of encouragement?

Perhaps we, too, were sitting too dangerously far away. Perhaps, we were being clumsy or careless.

Perhaps, we're even making too big a deal of the fall. Perhaps our small degree of hurt does not justify our vociferous and indignant outcry.

But does it matter? Does that mean that we don't deserve some generous words of empathy or love?

Imagine if every time our spouses, children or friends experienced a fall-out in life, we were there to greet them with the same three-phased response as my three-year-old:

1) I know it hurts. I'm sorry. I'm here with you.

2) Where does it hurt? How can I help make it better? How can I help you?

And only later, much later:

3) How do you think you can avoid a future fall? What have you learned from this?

Be generous with your hugs.

Because there is a three-year-old inner child within us all.

When is genuine empathy called for? Are there times when "tough love" is the right approach?