Yesterday, my seven year old ran to me sobbing. “Mum, I got really angry and said something mean to my friend.” He collapsed into my arms and I held him while he cried. He let out all of his feelings. Everything that had been slowly piling up until the collapse of treating his friend unkindly. I listened and listened more.
“One day your child will make a mistake or a bad choice and run to you instead of away from you, and in that moment you will know the immense value of peaceful, positive, respectful parenting.” L. R. Knost
‘I want to show you.’
He took me to his computer and showed me what he had written to his friend in their game and then looked at me and said, “maybe now he won’t want to be my friend” and he cried some more. I sat with him while he told me about his anger and his sadness.
He didn’t fear my response or shaming or judgment. He didn’t expect me to fix it. He just expected me to be there.
As calm began to be restored, he looked at me, pondering what to do next. I said to him that everyone makes choices they regret sometimes and sometimes those choices can hurt the feelings of people we care about. We can’t go back in time to change what happened but we are always in control of what we do to make things right if that’s what we want to do.
He thought for a minute, took a breath and walked back to his computer and called his friend. He apologised and explained to him why he had gotten so frustrated and he asked me to message his mum and let her know too so she could talk to him if he was upset.
The adults in his life are allies. It never occurred to him that I would judge his actions harshly. It never occurred to him that the mother of his friend would do anything but support her child and be grateful that my son had wanted her to know.
How beautiful is that? Isn’t this how it should be? What purpose would punishment serve here? If instead I told him that he couldn’t be trusted to use his computer/would have to earn back my trust/could not use his computer for a week or whatever other arbitrary thing I could think of, next time would he run to me, or away from me? Would he smother his mistake in shame, or share his experience and seek guidance from those around him?
Later that night as we lay together, he brought it up again.
“I just got so angry.”
Anger is a tricky emotion because it is often masking our true feelings of sadness, fear or frustration. We talked about anger. We talked about how saying things or making decisions when you are angry are often choices we regret with hindsight. When you are hurting, you are more likely to try and hurt someone else. I reminded him that I am ‘his person’ as we say in our family. I am always there to hold that space for him. In the conversation that followed, we shared stories and experiences of feeling angry and talked about antidotes to feeling overwhelmed. He thought he might like to give himself some space and take some breaths next time.
Today, I heard the frustration beginning to build again. I heard him pleading with his friend to stop. And then before it peaked and overflowed to the point of no return, he ran over to me, grabbed my hand, led me upstairs and cuddled me in silence.
Nothing was said, but some tears were shed. We sat for a couple of minutes like that. Then he got up, went downstairs, put his headphones back on and said calmly, ‘I don’t like it when you do that.’
Recently, I wrote about unschooling and the bit no one sees. The huge time investment in emotional development. This is a perfect example. These are the moments I have so much gratitude for. The moments I am so happy I am there. I see recognition in my child, that they can look up from the turmoil around them and find love and guidance, not fear and punishment. And for me, that is why all of this matters.