Today I feel compelled to write about the power of holding your children. Not merely holding them, but holding them until they are completely finished being held. This has always been a challenge for me. I am able to comfort my children, but usually only until I feel they have been comforted enough and it’s time to move on. I generally feel uncomfortable (kind of antsy) when they are having big feelings and sitting with this uncomfortable feeling is one of my big challenges to peaceful parenting. Well, they say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. And yesterday I had the chance to practice this type of holding with BOTH of my children to amazing effect!
We had a bit of a rough day with too much time in the car driving my son to and from summer camp and then trying to find the UPS distribution center. I was stressed out, worrying that my package would be returned to sender, and feeling as if the whole day had been wasted. In the midst of all of this, my 2 ½ year old had fallen and scraped her knee.
Unfortunately, every time she looked at her knee she would enter into a new round of crying and wailing and wanting mommy to hold her. I felt I couldn’t hold her because I was driving. And I was preoccupied and stressed about getting to UPS before they decided to ship my computer back to the company. Again and again, she burst into tears, sobbing and sobbing. When we got home, I decided to put all other projects and plans out of my mind and just sit with her. As long as she needed me too.
I enveloped her in my arms and held her tight and close. I asked her to tell me what happened to her knee. When she couldn’t articulate it, I told the story for her, “You were running to catch up with mommy to go see the water fountain. You were happy and excited. And then you tripped and fell and scraped your knee. And it really, really hurt.” She burst into tears again.
I let her cry and then when she calmed down, I asked her again to tell me what had happened. I said, “Remember, you were happy to see the fountain? And then you tripped and scraped your leg and it really, really hurt.” Another wave of tears.
“I BROKE my leg! I BROKE my leg!”
I said, “You didn’t break your leg. You just scraped it.” More tears.
“I broke it. I broke it.”
I said, “Oh, I see. You fell and scraped your leg and you broke the skin. That hurt a lot and you feel sad about it.” Her tears subsided and I continued to hold her close. After a time, she said in a calm voice, “That helps a lot. You helped me feel better and kept me warm.” Then she jumped down to play.
Not long afterward, my son was upset when I set a limit with him. As a rule, we try to really limit our children’s media exposure, but after the emotional turmoil of the day, I had allowed him to watch a portion of a movie. When it was time to turn off the television, he started a big cry.
In the past, I would’ve tried to stop him from crying by saying something like, “If you are going to throw a fit every time I allow you to watch something on TV, then maybe we’d better not watch any TV at all.” What I’ve come to understand is that just because I may be able to stop his crying doesn’t mean that his feelings go away. So today, I actually said the words above. But while I was saying them, I was able to remember two things. One—his big feelings are an opportunity for connection, and Two—children often will use a small upset to release all the tension they’ve been holding all day.
I sat down and hugged him, rubbing his back and saying things like, “It was a hard day, wasn’t it? We had a lot of time in the car. Everyone was worried. I was worried about finding the UPS. Julia was worried about her knee. You went to summer camp for the first time. It was a hard day.” He cried and sobbed on my shoulder. I just kept holding him until I felt him relax in my arms, and then I still kept holding him until he stood up straight, wiped his eyes, looked at me and said, “Thank you.” It was the most sincere thank you I’ve ever had from him. And then he ran off to play, full of smiles for the rest of the day.
What an amazing result from such a small action! I encourage you to try it. Next time you are comforting your child, hold on just a little bit longer. Longer than your discomfort can last. And longer than you think they need. Let them be the ones to break the hold. And see what happens. I’d love to hear your results in the comments section!