Nov 262013 10 Responses

Recognize Your Child’s Pain

They need us to see it more than fix it.

I’ve chronicled my journey with Silas through the death of his grandfather. This is his third experience with death. My grandparents, who lived next door, both died the year before. In the weeks following each death, Silas had a difficult time going to sleep. Each time, it wasn’t until 4–5 weeks after the death before the struggles began.

silas downcast

So it wasn’t surprising last month when Silas began acting out at bedtime. A month removed from the death of his grandfather, I knew it might happen. My generally compliant kid suddenly became a tyrant at night. He wouldn’t obey; he would dare me to punish him; and no matter what happened he wouldn’t stay in bed.

I tried everything I knew: (See: 3 Things to Do When Parenting Goes Wrong)

  • Stuffed animals were punished
  • Money was taken away
  • He was grounded from all electronics

I even tried spanking which was harder on me than him, even though it was also hard on him.

Nothing worked. (It actually made it worse, see here.)

He hated it; I hated it; but nothing made it better.

As a parent, leader, and person, whenever something isn’t working I will often try to do the exact opposite of what I’m doing to see if it gets a different result.

It happened as he sat in my lap. I was having to restrain him so he wouldn’t run, kick, or hit. He was furious and so was I.

For two weeks we had been through this process and nothing was working. I knew the ultimate cause—he was grieving his grandfather—but I didn’t know how to help him.

Finally, I looked him in the eye and said, “I am so sorry you are hurting.” He thought I was talking about not getting his way so I rephrased my words: “I am so sorry Papa Bruce died.” Like the movie Good Will Hunting, I repeated it, “I am so sorry Papa Bruce died.”

The first statement confused him. The second statement stunned him. The last statement broke him.

He fell into my chest and began to cry hysterically. I held him until his tears began to slow. We laid down together in total darkness when he suddenly said, “Daddy, I want to tell you something.”

For two weeks I had begged him to talk to me. “Just talk to me, Silas, tell me how I can help you. Tell me what is wrong,” I repeated over and over. Finally he was ready to say something.

“I just don’t think anyone understands how much I miss Papa,” he said.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

He cried. I cried. And eventually he went to sleep.

The strange thing is that for the past few nights he hasn’t struggled to go to bed.

We’ve gone through our normal routine and he has drifted to sleep.

Could it be what my son needed most was for someone to recognize his pain?

I can’t fix it or take it away.

I don’t lie to him so I can’t diminish what he is feeling.

But I can recognize it. I can name it.

Suffering is a guaranteed aspect of this world. As much as we would like to think it’s an adult experience, we cannot prevent sorrow from our children. We can prevent some it. By making wise choices, many of the sorrows of childhood can be prevented. Yet we cannot save them from all the hurts of the world. Arrows of sorrow will pierce every heart—even the most vulnerable of hearts.

Parents fail, not when our children suffer, but when we live in denial of their suffering. In so doing, we train our children to hide their pain. This heaps sorrow upon sorrow.

Recognizing their pain validates their feelings and let’s them know the pain can be endured. It shows them they are not alone.

Two reminders when it comes to the suffering of our children:

1) Do not deny it. No matter how difficult it is to recognize the pain—recognize it. Don’t be afraid of showing emotion. With age appropriateness, let them see that sorrow touches us all.

2) Do not diminish it. We shouldn’t make more out of it than is there, but we also cannot downplay it. Every sorrow is real. To downplay the pain is to devalue the person. Diminishing pain might make us feel better, but it doesn’t make them feel better.

Parents often feel pressure to protect their children from pain. It’s a noble pressure. In many ways we should do everything in our power to prevent as much sorrow as possible. Yet at times a parent’s greatest task is not to prevent pain, but to recognize it.

Whenever we recognize our child’s pain, we are actually recognizing them.

10 Responses to Recognize Your Child’s Pain
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