Over and over again, I’m reminded that the best remedy to just about everything is simply acknowledging feelings. As parents, our first impulse is often to fix – clean up the spill, soothe the child, bandage the wound. But if instead, we simply Listen, situations actually resolve, and our children become smarter and more resilient. Let me explain.
This morning, just like every morning, my seven year old and I were riding our bikes to school. Only this morning, he scrubbed – big time. He was behind me, so I didn’t see what happened, but we were riding fast, and I heard the crash of his bike on the asphalt, and then the screams.
I’m on year 12 of parenting three boys, so I’m not shaken by these things, but I could tell he needed help. I parked my bike and got him and his bike out of the road. And then I sat on the curb, pulled him into my lap, and Listened.
He screamed…a lot. I was shocked that no one came out of any of the surrounding houses (but that’s a blog post for another day).
“It hurts! It HURTS! It’s feels cold. I’m bleeding!” he shouted with the intensity of someone who had lost a finger, not cut and bruised it. He was in pain. But he was also really scared.
I held him and he cried big tears. He hugged me tightly and buried his face in my neck. And every once in a while he would gather a big breath of air, shake a bit, and then go back to crying. I just held him close and Listened.
After about 15 minutes, his words changed.
“Get someone to pick us up!” he shouted, panicked. “Take me to the DOCTOR!”
And then he yelled at the top of his lungs, “I want to know what it is!!!”
I’ve noticed lately that he’s been really focused on “what (an injury) is”. From birth he’s been one of these kids who gets bumped or scraped and pops back into action pretty quickly. He’s never been one to dwell on a booboo. But over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a change. He gets hurt, and even more out of character for him, notices things about his body with concern, and REALLY wants to know “what it is” and “what it does”. Just last weekend my mom was driving him somewhere and she called me terrified that something was horribly wrong. She said he was complaining that his chest hurt, and she was obviously worried. And then he was worried. It’s true, it could have been his heart. But my guess was indigestion.
“What is it?” he pleaded with me to tell him over the phone.
I said I didn’t know, and then I remembered a family friend from childhood who, after losing an argument that the spoon he was holding was called a fork, proclaimed, “Well, you could call it a fork!” I suggested we could call the feeling he was having whatever we wanted – let’s say, “Fred,” and I let him know I’d be home soon to check him out.
My young son has experienced loss in his short life. The deaths of both his grandpa and great-grandma were blows to his world. And he knows that I’ve lost two very close friends to diseases, and that a friend of mine is currently battling lung cancer.
These things are scary for all of us. I could come up with some theory around this, but honestly it would only help to quench my own thirst to know how and why he functions the way he does. I won’t likely ever know why he’s been so scared lately, but I am grateful for the ability to recognize that he is obviously scared in a way he has never been scared before. And he’s trying desperately to bury the fear by pinning a name on it. Which is great, in that it soothes him and gets him through whatever the current struggle is, but the fear has just been sitting there, brewing under the surface, waiting for something to happen so that it could get the hell out of there.
And that’s what happened this morning when he crashed his bike. Eventually, he stopped screaming for me to take him to the doctor, and we walked our bikes a couple of blocks, and then hitched a ride home with a neighbor. I cleaned his cuts and scrapes and taped his little swollen finger to the strong one next to it, and we got in the car and headed for school. He bounced into the classroom no problem, and when he was dropped home at the end of the day, he hopped out of the car with a big grin on his face and announced that he had taken off the splint (half of a plastic spoon I found in the kitchen drawer – extra brownie points for resourcefulness, please;) and that it was still a little sore, but that he could almost bend it all the way now. He demonstrated, and then he ran off to play with his brother.
Interesting. This day could have gone many ways. Had I answered to his fears, and taken them on as my own, I could have easily spent my day going from doctor to x-ray tech to pharmacy… You know the drill. Instead, I offered myself to my son for an hour, supported him to heal, and even had time to write about it!
Tosha Schore is the mother of three boys, and the owner of Tosha Schore, Your Partner in Parenting. She is a Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor and Trainer who has empowered thousands of parents to conquer their parenting challenges, so that they experience less struggle, and more joy, play, laughter and ease in their families. Tosha is particularly interested in the issues of raising boys, sibling relationships, setting limits, and helping children work through fear. She lives in the United States, and supports parents all over the world through her online programs. You can learn more about Tosha and her parenting services at www.toshaschore.com.