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.
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