One evening when my son was about three, we had a big dinner party. In all of the commotion a large vase broke. My son was very close to the vase when it broke and he was tremendously startled by the loud crashing sound. He screamed in shock and terror, and cried long and hard.
I simply stayed and listened to him as he cried. I looked at him and valued his depth of emotion. I faced him, held his hands, made occasional soothing sounds of acknowledgment. I didn’t feel a need to pick him up or hug him or rush off somewhere else with him. He was frightened, and I was right there for him. It was no one’s fault, and his reaction was understandable. As he calmed down, I said things like, “That was a very loud sound and we are all right now.”
I distinctly remember everyone running around picking up glass and getting out the broom. There was a big anxious, bustle of activity. I stayed tuned in to him.
After he cried about the loud sound the vase made, he ran off and rejoined the play with the other kids as if nothing had happened. It was over. He had released his fears and now felt “all-better.” He moved seamlessly back into enjoying the party.
Later, one of the dads said, “You just let him cry?” I honestly couldn’t tell if he was curious about my reaction or criticizing it. Maybe he thought I should have tried to calm him down, carry him away, or shush him. It was a busy night and that particular conversation was short, but I knew that my son and I felt very close. He had offloaded his fear and received my confidence and love. He was safe, and we felt secure with each other.
I learned that sometimes I feel absolutely steady and sure about the release needed and the healing that occurs when my children are crying. All my training in psychoanalytic psychotherapy supports the idea that compassionate listening and warm, respectful attentiveness are the primary tools for repair, safety, and connection.
That night, it came together easily for my son and I. I felt proud of his capacity for emotional depth and release, and my capacity to appreciate that in him.
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