HOLDING: The Day My Son Thought He Had Died

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Psalm 18:16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.  He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.

 

 

I have recently begun to view HOLDING my children as so much more than just physically carrying them.  Holding has become something that is physical, emotional, and psychological.

Two summers ago for about 2 hours my son thought that he was dead!  It was a beautiful day.  My wife and I took our family to a community swimming area, we were able to relax and watch our kids swim with their older cousins.  Near the end of our time at the lake two of our sons approached us in the water.  The older one appeared completely calm and said, “Dad I was freaking out!” The other was literally freaking out; he was yelling, screaming, and crying.  Apparently one of his siblings had taken a water toy from him and he was very upset.  My wife and I both gravitated to the screaming child.  We acknowledged the older one but picked up, consoled, and helped to manage the screaming one.  Both children moved on and we left the lake a short time later.  As we arrived home my wife and I remarked to each other how enjoyable the day had been and what a fun time we had had.

The older cousins joined us at our house and we settled the children downstairs to watch a movie.  As my wife and I discussed the enjoyable afternoon, our older son came upstairs noticeably upset.  He was in tears and could hardly speak through his emotions.  He climbed into my lap and I attempted to understand what was going on.  He explained in short tearful phrases that he was afraid he had died.  Slowly the story of his “freaking out” emerged.  He explained that he was playing on the floatilla of fun in the deep end of the lake.  He saw an older kid with no life-jacket on swim underneath an inflatable “bridge” that was about 3 feet wide.  We had told him previously to never swim under this bridge.  As he saw the older kid do it with such ease however, he decided to give it a try.  In his attempt to swim under the bridge he plunged his head under the water and swam with all his might expecting to resurface on the other side.  His life jacket forced him to the surface earlier than anticipated and became caught on a seam of the rubber floatilla.  In realizing he was not going to make it he freaked out and attempted to return from where he had come.  He said that he had to swim as hard as he could to release himself from the bridge before he popped up above the surface gasping for air.

I was shocked by his story and confused by his concern about being dead.  It seemed that although he had escaped drowning he was afraid that what he was now experiencing was death.  I was freaking out and feeling overwhelmed at the outcome that could have devastated this beautiful day.  I had failed at this moment to physically protect him and it was now time to emotionally and psychologically HOLD him.

I stumbled about attempting to elicit his entire story while simultaneously working to maintain my composure.  Praise the Lord he was safe! But what is a parent to do?

After two years of on and off again reflection regarding this very scary experience I have deciphered what has become my way of HOLDING to protect from harm.

Physically Holding:

            My son climbed up into my lap to tell his story, he desired physical closeness as well as strength to contain the convulsions and shakes of his emotionally charged body.  Physical proximity during times of fear and pain can be very comforting to children.  The natural rhythms of a parents breathing, heartbeat and voice serves to calm and regulate.  I have learned to become more open to physical contact.  Whether it’s holding hands, scratching a back, or applying sunscreen holding touch is a crucial ingredient in protecting a child from present and future harm.

Emotionally Holding:

            My son was overwhelmed with emotion.  He could not contain his feelings of fear, and uncertainty.  He needed a parent to be a container for these overflowing emotions.  As emotion pours out of a child and into the parent he needs to feel that the parent can handle it.  The parent can manage his own emotions in the face of the child’s very powerful emotions.  My son was also confused about what had happened.  Emotional holding helps a child to make sense of confusing emotions and circumstances.  Emotional holding seeks to fully understand the experience of the child without judgment.  For the child telling the story enables him to make sense of the experience.

Psychologically Holding:

            In the weeks following this incident I began to wonder if it might impact him long term.  He loved to swim, but would he refuse to get back in the water?  Would he have nightmares, irrational fears, or ongoing questions about death?  I continued to talk about the situation hoping to communicate that it was ‘ok’ to talk about and that recurring thoughts were normal.  At one point he stated that he thought about it often, so I wondered about his thoughts and even consulted a therapist.  Psychological holding is being your child’s therapist.  It is knowing when to talk and when to listen.  It is knowing when to seek outside help for your child and possibly for yourself.  Psychological holding is a parent’s ability to know a child in their mind, and heart.  It is the ability to mentalize the child’s inner experience and respond appropriately.

My son is OK, we talk about this day every once in a while but mostly it is just part of his story.  As his parent I am reminded that I cannot protect him from every danger, but that HOLDING him can help him to get through the scary things he encounters in life.  I can be his secure base to which to return when times get rough and life is difficult.

What scary/painful things have your kids experienced and how did you help them through it?  What was the hardest part about helping them through this difficult time?

Daddy Will You Hold Me?

acb60-14063358_sI used to be a cruel and sadistic parent.  I was selfish, tired, resentful, and overwhelmed.

       My first son learned to walk when he was around nine months old.  At about 18 months I figured he had had enough practice and I expected him to walk everywhere he went.  When we went to the store he would slowly climb his way out of the car seat, I set him on the ground and expected him to walk to the store.  He would start to whine about halfway there, when his little legs struggled to keep up with my full strides.  As he plopped himself on the ground crying, “daddy hold me” my frustration would start to boil, I attempted to provide a logical choice, “You can walk, or you can ride in the cart.”  However, logic was thrown out the window when I expected an 18 month old to walk the length of a parking lot.

            8 years and 3 kids later I was reminded of my cruel and sadistic past.  My five year old is high energy and high emotion.  By the end of the day he has run his tank dry and seems to have little energy left for any self-care.  As we finish reading books he plops himself on the floor and asks, “daddy will you hold me?”

            When I scoop him up and carry him to bed I realize that “holding” a child is so much more than bringing that child from point A to point B.

Holding a child is:

  •             Protecting from harm
  •             Containing feelings
  •             Softening your heart
  •             Anticipating needs
  •             Accepting uniqueness
  •             Caring for hurts
  •             Enforcing limits
  •             Sacrificing self
  •             Creating safety
  •             Seeking to understand
  •             Being present
  •             Offering grace

Over the next several months my posts will be discussing questions about  “holding” your children.  Is it possible to drop a child emotionally while holding him physically?  Is it possible to hold a child while not physically touching him?  How do fathers hold differently than mothers?  What are the consequences of never being held and how can one learn to hold if they never experienced it themselves?

Please join me in the discussion and offer your own reflections or questions about your experience as a parent.

I’ve Been Profiled

When I think of profiling or stereotyping I usually think of the racial type.  I am thankful to have never encountered the significant consequences of being profiled.  My experience consists of being the only Caucasian boy on a baseball team made up of all Hispanic boys; they gave me the nickname “white boy”.

Today however, I discovered that I had been profiled based on my religious beliefs.  I received a message from a fellow dad blogger saying that he owed me an apology.   He had read my twitter profile beginning with “I am a follower of Christ” and instantly wrote me “off” based on his previous assumptions about Christians.  He went to my blog and discovered that most of my posts began by quoting a bible passage.  This was more evidence in his mind that I fit the profile he was thinking of.

I am not exactly sure what assumptions were made about me based on those words, “I am a follower of Christ”, but I spent the day wondering about it.  I wonder if he expected my blog to be full of articles railing against homosexuality, gun control, and President Obama?  I wonder if he expected to read about the evils of abortion, or a call to boycott some movie, company, or product?  I wonder if he expected my blog to feel argumentative, judgmental, condescending, or arrogant?  Maybe he just didn’t want to read about how good God is when there is so much crap going on in the world.

To my delight, this dad blogger has written a post telling the story of how after his initial visit to my blog he had a separate conversation that provided him with increased insight regarding his profiling of Christians.  Following this exchange he returned to my blog for a second look and wrote this about his experience;

 I went back to that first blog. This time, rather than flee at the sight of scripture, I stayed a while and read his last three posts. Turns out, he’s just a guy trying to live a good life. That life, for him, is rooted in his faith. His posts may play off of the selected bible verses that precede them, but mostly he just writes about being a dad.

            I really appreciate that this blogger took the time to get to know me.  He spent time listening rather than talking and made a true effort to understand my perspective.  He discovered that I was not what he thought I was.  Through my writing he was able to discover the true picture of who I am.  I am just a guy living a life rooted in faith trying to be a dad.

            I fully believe that a posture of listening, understanding, respecting, and loving could change our society.  When we truly get to know someone we begin to realize that they are a unique individual separate from assumptions based on labels and appearances.  Thank you dad blogger friend for beginning a dialogue and moving beyond your previously held assumptions.  

ANGRY ART

 

6d302-img_0229This article can also be found on Huffington Post Parent

“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” Proverbs 29:11

Several weeks ago, my son became very angry with me.  It was a slow Saturday morning, and a bit cool outside.  I was attempting to find some indoor activities that would keep the “wheels” on for a little while.  We have a large roll of butcher paper in a closet that was purchased precisely for these types of days.  So, I got the roll out cut a piece about my son’s height and asked if he wanted me to trace him.  He said yes and things were looking up.

I completed tracing his body and right away I knew something was wrong.  I noticed a certain tone in his voice when he said, “daaaaad.”  I checked in to see what the problem was and he said, “you did it wrong!”  I could see the emotion beginning to overwhelm him.  His face was a little red, his eyes were filling with tears and I am pretty sure a crayon flew by my head.  “What did I do wrong?” I asked.  “You traced my hand wrong!” he yelled.

The next few seconds consisted of me trying to understand what had upset him and he yelling through tears, pacing around the room.  The intensity and speed with which he felt this anger surprised me.  What he did next was also quite a surprise.  He sat down next to the outline of his body and began to furiously scribble over the entire thing.  At first it seemed he was doing this to upset me.  He looked at me as he scribbled waiting to see if I would react.  When I did not react however he just kept scribbling and scribbling and scribbling.  As he scribbled he seemed to gradually be getting calmer and calmer.  He changed colors several times until he had filled up the entire sheet of paper with ANGER.

In this moment I was a little angry myself.  I had attempted to create a nice memory and it turned into something quite uncomfortable.  As I have reflected on what happened however, I have become thankful for the experience.  I have learned several valuable lessons about my son that I hope to never forget.

My son experiences his emotions quickly and intensely.  No matter what he feels, he feels it to the full.  When he is happy, excited, sad, angry, or frustrated his cup is one or two drops away from over flowing.  This truth will be a great strength for him, he is passionate, hardworking, physically active, engaging, and fun to be around.  This truth may also be a challenge for him; he can by hyper, impulsive, rough, and reckless.  Most importantly I learned that when he is allowed to express his emotions he will be OK.

As he scribbled I could see the anger pouring out of him, I could feel his upset as he glared in my direction hoping to get a reaction.  But the longer he scribbled the less intensely he felt this anger.  Children need parents that are not afraid of their intense feelings.  They need parents who can “contain” them even when they cannot contain themselves.  When their cups are over flowing with anger, sadness, energy, or excitement they need parents to accept their expressions of these feelings and to help contain the overflow.

I am not perfect at this, my son is not perfect at this, but I think we are learning more and more about it every time he is overwhelmed.  Each experience of these intense emotions is another opportunity to practice the ANGRY ART.

What emotion does your child feel most intensely?

How does your child express this emotion?

What Do You Think About That?

A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother. Proverbs 10:1

There are parents all across the U.S. struggling with the foolish decisions of their children.  I myself have often wondered about my own son, “why did you do that?”  I really wish that children came out of the womb with all the tools they needed to make wise decisions.   Unfortunately children are born ill equipped for the thousands of decisions they will make in there life time.  How then do we as parents train our children to make wise decisions?

I believe that we train children to make wise decisions by asking the question, what do you think about that?  When children become teenagers they are suddenly required to make many decisions.  If when they get to this stage they have never thought through the consequences of a decision or solved a problem on their own, they are in for a lesson.

I like to start out small and young.  Asking children at a young age what their favorite color is, food, movie, game, friend etc…  All of these questions require a child to think about their wants, desires, and at some level what is valuable to them.  These are not the ultimate values of life but they are the beginnings of determining the ultimate values.  One of the most important things to focus on as a parent during these conversations is truly seeking to understand your child’s inner life.  The more you are engaged with understanding your child’s thoughts, opinions, and values, the stronger they will hear the message, “what you think is important to me.”  If you value their opinion then they will see value in it as well.

As a child increases in age and practice it is wise for parents to begin asking their opinion in more significant ways.  What sport would you like to play? What assignment would you like to do first?  What do you think about this bible verse?  What is important to you in this?  The more opportunity they have to express their opinions about a wide variety of topics the more confident they will be in their opinions.  The more confidence they have in their own opinions the more likely they are to make decisions based on their values rather than those of their peers.

It is not possible to guarantee that our children will always make the right decision.  It is possible however to provide tons of practice and rehearsal for the moments when their values are really tested.  When the pressure is on they will rely on what is most comfortable and familiar to them.  Parents can influence what is most comfortable and familiar by engaging in thoughtful and challenging conversations.

More articles available at www.parentingboysraisingmen.com

The Secret of Power and Control

My wife and I are in serious trouble! Today my five year old discovered the most well kept and important secret of the parenting world.  I was hopeful that my boys would not discover this secret for several more years.  Now that the middle child has figured it out however, it will not be long before the other three catch on.

He has discovered that when it really comes down to it, I cannot MAKE him do anything.

We stopped at a local restaurant to grab dinner following his soccer game.  I was rushing home to pick up his older brother so that I could take him to his cub scout meeting.  As we left the restaurant he stopped, just outside the door.  I was walking ahead of him and looked back to see him propped up against the wall scraping his soccer cleats on the ground.  I said, “come on buddy, let’s go” He said, “No” and just stood there.  He looked at me with a knowing smirk; he saw that my hands were full, I was in a hurry, and that I had few parenting “tools” at my disposal.

Thankfully, I had gotten off work a little early today so I was in a pretty patient frame of mind.  I remained calm and began racking my brain for the best way to handle this situation.  We stood there looking at one another for nearly a minute.   It began to feel like the stand off at the OK corral, whoever moved first, was doomed to lose.  After searching for the most helpful tool in my bag for this situation, I came up empty.  I was unable to think of a logical or enforceable statement to convince him that he should move on his own.  So, I walked back to where he stood, took his arm and walked him to the car.  Eventually he decided to walk on his own, and climbed into his seat.

As I reflect on this situation I am struck by the simple truth, I CANNOT MAKE HIM DO ANYTHING.  At this point he is only five, I am bigger than he and I can take him by the arm and walk him to the car.  In ten years if he decides to take a similar approach about going to school things will be different.  I will not be able to physically move a fifteen year old as I did my five year old today.

This was a power struggle, he realized that I was in a hurry and short handed; he decided he was going to exercise his personal will.  I am reminded of how important it is for parents to admit and be OK with the fact that we cannot MAKE our children do anything.  All we can do is state what we are going to do.  We cannot control our children, instead we must explain the expectations or limit and then manage our own responses accordingly.  When the child does not meet the expectation the parent can let go of forcing him to “do” something and provide a logical consequence for the decision.  If the child meets the expectation he learns a lesson about responsibility, if the child does not meet the expectation and experiences a consequence, he learns a lesson about responsibility.  Either way the lesson is learned and the parent maintains sanity by understanding, “I don’t have to control my child, only my self.”

Over what has your child power struggled?
What are your favorite enforceable statements?
What are your “go to” phrases for enforcing limits?

Stuff Dads Say

Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.

Proverbs 4:1

I am always a little shocked by how much my children actually hear what I say.  It is even scarier to realize how much they watch what I do.  Several years ago I had picked our boys up from school and was driving home when from the back seat I heard my oldest say the word stupid.  I quickly turned around and said,  “Hutson we do not say stupid.”   Later that same evening the boys and I ventured into the back yard to play in our sandbox.  As I dragged off the cover, designed to keep the neighbors cat from pooping in our sand, I discovered a nasty deposit.  I scooped out the poop and said under my breath, “stupid cat”.   Hutson came running over from about 15 feet away, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Dad, we do not say stupid!”  Ouch, the painful humility of realizing my own hypocrisy.  I was reminded of how powerfully the words and actions of a father impact the lives of their children.

I strongly believe that the messages fathers send, stated and unstated, have a profound impact on how their sons (and daughters) come to view the world, God, themselves, and others.  I have compiled a list of the top ten most important messages all boys need to hear from their fathers.  I believe these messages should be sent over and over again throughout a son’s life.  They are paying attention and will gain understanding.  The question is, understanding of what?  Over the next several months I will be expanding upon each point with one or more posts dedicated to each message.

The most important messages every boy needs to hear from his father

  1. No Kicking in the face
  2. Where does it hurt?
  3. Come on, I need your help
  4. Let’s go on an adventure
  5.  Oh, Let’s try that again
  6.  Let’s go help mom
  7.   How are you going to handle that?
  8.  I’m sorry
  9.   What do you think about that?
  10.  How do you ask nicely?

I have caught myself saying each one of these phrases.  Before having kids I never imagined that they would become part of my parenting vocabulary.  I am excited to share with you how they have shaped my journey as a father and how I believe they continue to shape the way my sons view the world.

What messages do you think should be added to the list?
What messages did you hear from your dad?
How do “father” messages play a role in how children view God?  

Seeking to Understand

“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out” Proverbs 20:5

Every once in a while I am blown away by things my children say that reveal just how deep the waters of their heart run.  Much of the time it seems they are consumed by thoughts of trucks, poop, and candy.  In the moments that they reveal to me the “deep waters” of their heart it is a true delight to connect my heart with theirs.

I am very fond of this proverb because of how it instructs parents to draw out, with understanding, the inner life of their child.  I imagine a bucket constructed of “understanding” lowered into a well that returns with a deeper knowledge of the child’s inner life.  How does a parent begin to make himself into this “bucket” of understanding?  I believe our children feel understood and thus share more of their inner life when they experience acceptance, humility, and contingency.

Acceptance:

         It is important for parents to accept the emotions, thoughts, and experiences of their children no matter how “wrong” or “different” they may seem.  A parent and child could experience the exact same event yet have drastically different perspectives on what happened.  Children feel understood when parents accept and value their version of an event.  This includes those times when a child is angry, frustrated, or disappointed with their parent.  Some parents may disallow the expression of anger, or disappointment in the name of respect or obedience.  It is important that parents accept the strong feelings and be able to “hold” them for the child.  This stance of acceptance creates an environment in which a child feels safe to share those most difficult emotions that even they may not totally understand. 

Humility: 

         I once heard a speaker say that the best thing he ever did as a parent was to apologize to his children when he messed up.   Approaching your child with an attitude of humility is a powerful part of drawing out his inner life.  This approach acknowledges that your child is the expert on his experience.  Be open to what may seem like contradictory statements.  Ask clarifying questions that allow your child to explain more of his beliefs.  If his values seem illogical or immature refrain from passing judgment, just keep wondering, the more he talks the more refined his values will become.  Humility establishes you as the go to person for working out his ever-evolving system of values and beliefs.

 Contingency:

         Communication is contingent when the parent and child are changed by what has been expressed.  In his book,  “Parenting From the Inside Out, How a deeper Self-understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive” Daniel Siegel states that in contingent communication, “the receiver of the message listens with an open mind and with all his or her senses.  Her reaction is dependent on what was actually communicated, not on a predetermined and rigid mental model of what was expected.”  Contingent communication is flexible.  Parents are able to pick up on slight nonverbal changes to determine a course of action.  Decisions are made based on the needs of their child rather than an overly rigid rule or schedule.  Contingency allows for parent and child to influence one another through verbal, and non-verbal forms of communication. 

As parents strive to understand their child with acceptance, humility, and contingency, periods of misunderstanding are normal.  There will always be times when parents are unable to understand what is happening in their child.  There will also be times when a parent fully understands their child, but is unable to change what happened or what needs to happen.  The exciting part is that the more we use our bucket of understanding the better we get at it.  The more our children experience communication as accepting, humble, and contingent the more they will share from the deep waters.