I fell a few days ago. I didn’t know I was stepping on ice and, before I could brace myself, my knee hit the pavement. It was the first time in perhaps 40 years that I skinned my knee. I had forgotten how much it hurts. Days later, it still hurts every time I bend my knee. I can feel the loss of the skin and the surrounding soreness. I am grateful that the injury was superficial but it remains painful and annoying. Last winter, I had a cold that seemed to be going away when I woke up in the middle of the night with a most terrible pain in my ear. I couldn’t wait to get to the doctor the next day for antibiotics. I sat in the waiting room holding my head and wondering if I had ever lost patience with my boys as they cried from ear pain.
Our brains are wired to help us forget pain. Anyone who has had a baby can attest to that. Every so often it is probably good for us to re-experience the physical pain of a skinned knee or an ear infection. It helps us to feel more sympathy for our children when they are physically hurt. Our children experience other pain, though. We cannot go back to the playground and re- experience the pain of first rejection when a supposed friend goes off with someone else. We cannot go back to the first time we felt picked on for being too short or too tall or too fat or too skinny. We remember that we felt badly but we have bigger issues now. What seemed like the most important problem in the whole world to us then seems so trivial now. We have learned to cope with the fact that not everyone will love us. We have emotionally fallen and gotten back up. We don’t do our children any favors when we either protect them from every hurt or trivialize their feelings when they occur. What is a parent to do when our children come home from school upset from a hurt that is not physical and that a band aid cannot solve?
- Listen. Take a breath, walk away from your very busy adult world filled with stress and the next appointment on your calendar. Listen. Listening is often harder than it sounds. Let your children tell their story without interruption, questions or suggestions. We need to remember how good it feels to just talk about what is weighing heavily in our minds.
- Take their situation seriously but don’t get involved. If your children are upset, it is serious business to them. We have the experience to know that life holds more difficult problems in store as they get older but they are in the present. Today, the children whispering about them matters. Today, being left out or teased is the most important thing in the world. It is not your job, however, to approach the offending child to defend yours. It is not your job to start a battle with the offending child’s parent. It is simply your duty to help your child to know how to respond appropriately when you are not there.
- Offer support without dismissal. Your children need to know that you are willing to offer advice and have a dialogue. Simply telling them what to do and moving on doesn’t show them that their feelings matter.
- Be willing to have your advice rejected. Children, especially as they become teenagers, think that you cannot understand and that your advice comes from experience gained in the ice ages. They may reject your advice. They will find their way and learn anyway. Accept that their life is about their path and not yours.
The ultimate goal of parenting is to have your children leave you capable of managing the good and the bad. They need to know that hurt ends. They will heal and move on. They will scrape themselves again but you will be there to comfort them as they get back up, put on the band aid and independently find their way. Sometimes, I still call my mom when I am troubled. I remember telling her about friends and fun and hurt as I dried the dishes she washed. She scrubbed pots and listened. She offered the advice I rejected. She still does the same. I hope my children know that I will be that mom for them even when they have children of their own.
For more information, click on these titles: "Trying, Confidence, Falling and Getting Back Up: Life Lessons from the Olympics" and "Teaching Children to Cope with Change"
Read my articles in “The Shriver Report”: and "Stress in the Family: Helping Our Children to Cope" and "From Working Mom to Working Woman: The Opportunity of the Empty Nest"
Read this blog for more articles. Ask your parenting & education questions and learn about early childhood workshops for parents & educators on my website - Helping Kids Achieve
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