Put On Your Sweater, I’m Cold

“Look! A rainbow!” Dalia shouted and pointed out the car window. I glanced over, but didn’t see anything except a blue sky and some clouds.

 

“There’s no rainbow,” Marissa said.

 

“Yes, there is! Right there!” Dalia insisted.

 

Marissa argued, “No, that’s just a cloud.”

 

The sisters started squabbling about the existence of a rainbow, so I chimed in: “One of you sees a rainbow and the other sees a cloud. That’s ok. You can each see something different.”

 

I didn’t just say that to end the bickering. Even though I didn’t actually see a rainbow either, who am I to say that Dalia didn’t? Perhaps she saw colors reflecting off the window glass. Maybe she was pretending. Or maybe she actually did see a rainbow. Her perception was her reality.

 

 

The day after this conversation took place, our family was browsing in the Disney Store. There was a young boy, around 8, who had a gift card to use. He kept pointing out items to his mother that he wanted, and every time she would say, “No, you don’t want that,” and then mention several reasons it was a poor purchase decision.

 

After a few times, he finally said, “Yes, I do! I do want that! It’s my money and that’s what I want.” But the mother still didn’t hear him. She kept denying what he was saying and trying to steer him into buying what she wanted him to buy.

 

Another time when we were at a park, a father was pushing his two daughters on the swings. One of the daughters said, “Daddy, I’m freezing.”

 

He answered, “No, you’re not. It’s 90° outside.”

 

“But I’m freeeeezing!” she repeated. Her father just ignored her.

 

I couldn’t resist interjecting. “Maybe she has a fever,” I suggested.

 

He responded, “Yeah, both girls were sick, but they’re over it.”

 

Again, this father was denying his daughter’s experience. Just because he wasn’t cold didn’t mean his daughter wasn't!

 

Another way parents deny their children’s reality is by negating their feelings. For example, a boy tells his mother, “I’m so mad because Sammy didn’t play with me today,” and the mother says, “Oh, don't be ridiculous. Sammy’s allowed to play with other friends.”

 

It can take a lot of courage to share feelings of vulnerability. Imagine how discouraged the boy feels when his mother tells him he's being “ridiculous.” The mother totally discounts her son’s feelings and misses an opportunity to connect with him. Instead, she could simply reflect back to him what she heard without attaching any judgment. “You’re so angry. You really wanted to play with Sammy today.”

 

“Yes! That’s it! She understands!” is what the boy thinks now. The mother doesn’t agree or disagree. She doesn’t lecture him or give advice. She doesn't try to make him feel better. She simply validates his point of view.

 

When parents dismiss their kids’ realities, children feel alone and misunderstood. They can’t trust their parents to support them and worse, they can’t even trust themselves!

 

The title of this blog is something my grandmother used to say. Whenever she felt cold, she urged us to put on a sweater. She didn't understand that our experiences could be different from hers.

 

Our kids are sure to have lots of emotions and perceptions about their experiences. Let’s remain open to them and resist urges to change, fix, or rescue. Remember, there is no reality, only perception.

 

I'd love to hear your thoughts about this. Please leave a comment below. If you liked this post, please subscribe to the blog and share it on Facebook. Thanks!

 

 

Showing 6 comments
  • Danielle
    Reply

    Thanks Pam! I work on this with vigilance – but I realized that I do it with my kids and my students, and with colleagues, but not my husband as often 🙁
    I have been so frustrated at work with my colleagues not listening to each other, and as a union leader, it’s been hard for me to see people not being able to validate each other, but instead blaming and turning it into a gossipy environment with negative consequences for all. Your blog post came at the right time – it sparked me to stop complaining in my head about my administration’s lack of training in this area and propelled me to create a mini-training of my own.
    My goal is to train colleagues to validate student perspectives and each other’s perspectives.
    Was thinking of opening with a “what would you say?” Using one of the scenarios from your blog to get some insight into how well people do validating to start. Then I could launch into your points in the blog post – the importance of validating and pointing out how people want to be heard – maybe even giving some sentence starters to support those who this does not come naturally to. Lastly, we could could a couple more real-life scenarios – acting out responses to students and adults.
    It’s a start – and thank you for the inspiration – propelling me to take action instead of complaining in my head. I have asked my admins over and over for training, but maybe they don’t know where to start and I think that you helped me see this as a golden opportunity to set forth and do the training myself – it’s an opportunity to support my colleagues instead of feeling disappointed by their lack of empathy.
    For my own learning – I am going to try and be more empathetic towards my husband!!! Thanks a million!

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Danielle! I’m just seeing this comment (about a month after you wrote it)! I’m so impressed with you and your motivation. How did it go with the training (and your husband)? I can’t wait to hear your results and I’m glad I was able to provide you with some inspiration. xoxo

  • Shari
    Reply

    What a great post. Thank you. Sometimes we are so caught up in our own world that we forget to acknowledge and honor what our little ones are sharing. It’s something I’m working on as well with me 6 & 8 year old children. Lifelong practice 🙂 xoxo

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Thanks, Shari! It’s definitely a lifelong practice. My hope is to help parents increase their consciousness about these sorts of things, so they can be more aware of the impact their words and actions have on their kids. Thanks so much for your comment:)

  • Jennifer Kennedy
    Reply

    I used to be a teacher, and although, I don’t remember actually questioning student’s realities, I’m sure it happened from time to time. Even now, I try to understand that people will perceive the same experience in different ways. You’re so right about the temperature part. Even in my office, my co-worker will be burning up, and I’m wrapped in two sweaters!

    As adults, it’s definitely about realizing what your words and actions say to children. Thanks!

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Hi Jennifer! It happens between adults, too! The closer we can get to understanding someone else’s reality, the better able we are to connect with them. Thanks for commenting!

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