Swallowed by a Bouncy House
Little Dan came home all excited about the water activities he played at camp. His smile stretched from ear to ear as he filled his parents in on the details between mouthfuls of grilled pastrami and quinoa salad during dinner. His happy mood continued right through bath time and his regular bedtime routine. That’s why mom and dad were surprised when Dan refused to go to bed saying ‘I can’t stop thinking about the day.’
“Really?” asked Mom, “I thought you had so much fun?”
“But I was really scared when the air went out of the bouncy house I was in!” Dan started to sniffle “and I made it out just in time.” he revealed to his surprised mom.
Mom was ready to remind Dan about the fun he had been talking about for the past few hours. But she knew that if her son was opening up about something he was afraid about, she needed to be there for him, to help him process his feelings and work things through.
“Oh!” she exclaimed with genuine concern “that sounds really scary. Want to tell me about it?”
It’s easy as parents to dismiss our children’s fears. After all we want them to be happy. We want them to be strong in the face of life’s experiences. So we tell them how there is nothing to be afraid of. We remind them of something happier or distract them with a video or pastime in order to return them to a happy disposition.
While such an approach may work for the moment, it doesn’t enable the child to learn how to cope with fears going forward. When a child hears a parent dismiss his feelings or distracts her with something else, they begin to wonder if there may be something wrong with their fearful feelings, after all daddy said there’s no reason to be afraid.
Imagine instead that the parent validates the fear and asks the child to talk about it. When mom and dad show understanding and empathy for Dan’s fear, he feels more secure about his feelings and is in a better position to work them through. Chances are that accepting Dan’s feelings will enable Dan to approach his parents again when he’s feeling afraid. With true empathy and care they can use the built up trust to help Dan learn how to manage those fearful moments in a healthy manner.
Is parenting making you feel like you’re going bananas? Don’t!
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