A friend and I were recently eating lunch at a popular Nashville restaurant.
We often sit toward the back of the restaurant, and this is also the area that many of the families with young children choose. As we sat down and were served our meal, a little girl, perhaps four or five, dissolved into loud sobs. Her distress intensified, as did the sound of her crying.
What happened next was amazing.
The child’s father, seated to her right, calmly pulled her chair closer to his, reached out, and gathered her into his arms, holding her close against his shoulder – and he just held her and let her cry. He didn’t talk; he didn’t explain or tell her what to do; he didn’t tell her to pull herself together – he just held her and let her cry.
Within a couple of minutes the sobs began to diminish. The child sat up, took some breaths, and soon got back to her own chair and her own meal.
The storm had passed.
We never really knew what precipitated her distress. It could have been anything – hurt feelings, not liking her lunch, competing with her sister, wanting attention – we didn’t know. What we did know, however, was that this father knew that if he let his daughter feel what she was feeling, without interfering or explaining or trying to change things, she would work it through. And she did.
Children are so in touch with their feelings and their bodies – they know that they need to express the emotions that arise in them. Our job is often to stay out of their way as they do so. A child who has experienced a challenging moment has feelings arise and allows those feelings to move. Loving presence is often the best thing we can offer.
What if the child were acting out – throwing things or harming self or others? In that case, clear boundaries must be set, but loving presence as the child works through the experience is still needed.
I appreciated this father’s skill. His daughter is being given a gift that will last a lifetime. Would that all children could have that opportunity.