I find that the longer I am a mom, the more I frame everything that I read, hear, and see in terms of parenting. Further, as a play therapist, I look for the connection to my training and support for what I practice. Recently, I was able to do both after reading a story that touched my parenting heart.
Here is the story from Max Lucado:
There is a time to speak. But there is also a time to be quiet. That’s what my father did. Dropping a fly ball may not be a big deal to most people, but if you are thirteen years old and have aspirations of the big leagues, it is a big deal. Not only was it my second error of the game, it allowed the winning run to score.
I didn’t even go back to the dugout. I turned around in the middle of left field and climbed over the fence. I was halfway home when my dad found me. He didn’t say a word. Just pulled over to the side of the road, leaned across the seat, and opened the passenger door. We didn’t speak. We didn’t need to. We both knew the world had come to an end. When we got home, I went straight to my room, and he went straight to the kitchen. Presently he appeared in front of me with cookies and milk. He took a seat on the bed, and we [ate] together.
Somewhere in the dunking of the cookies I began to realize that life and my father’s love would go on. In the economy of male adolescence, if you love the guy who drops the ball, then you really love him. My skill as a baseball player didn’t improve, but my confidence in Dad’s love did. Dad never said a word. But he did show up. He did listen up.
There are several important elements in this story. First, he was a thirteen year old boy. This fact places him in the midst of peer pressure to perform, and a fragile and still developing self-awareness. Between guilt for losing the game for his entire team and his self-blame for his poor performance, his confidence was rocked. This is why encouraging kids, even in the midst of failure, is so important.
Second, an emotional vocabulary is something that must be built and used regularly. When kids feel strong emotions, it is more often than not too difficult to explain what they are feeling, why they feel that way, or identify what that means to them. When you ask, “What is wrong?” and your child replies with, “Nothing” or “I don’t know,” that is likely true. This supports the importance of reflecting feelings, to help your child label and understand emotions.
Finally, we often have a tendency to want to fix things for our kids, or teach lessons about what they experienced, or talk about what happened until everyone feels better. There is a rule of thumb that I teach to parents – “If you can’t say it in ten words or less, don’t.” In instances where you know that your child is struggling with emotions and thoughts, sometimes it is better to just be supportive silently. If he or she really wants to talk about something, you won’t have to push for it.
I am finding that sometimes just sitting with my son is important. Witnessing his thought processing, his evaluation of the world and his assessment of what happens throughout the day. Attentive parenting is often just about understanding that kids need us to love them and be there for them, in good times and bad times. We don’t have to have the answers, solve the problems, or even say the perfect thing. We just need to be there, silent but steady.