I was driving home with my husband and my 2.5-year old son. We were coming from a sweet evening with some friends of ours who have a son his age. The dinner was lovely, I had felt connected to my husband and the couple, and the boys had played well together. I was filled with a sense of warm connection, and I started to sing a little.
Immediately he said, “No mamma! Don’t do that!” I was confused about what had bothered him so much, so to clarify I said, “You don’t want me to sing?” He said, “No. Don’t sing!” Then my husband said, “Well, I’m going to sing.” But he said said, “No, Daddy! Don’t sing!” So we playfully said, almost simultaneously, “Ok – then you sing!” His response took us by surprise. He said, “No, I can’t sing. I get in trouble.” I immediately chimed in, “Oh, sweetie, you won’t get in trouble for singing! We love it when you sing!” But he insisted. “No. If I sing, I get in trouble.” I continued to try to reassure him that he wouldn’t get in trouble for singing, but he continued to insist. “If I sing too loud, I get in trouble, and I get put in train like Mommy Dumbo with chains.”
Wow – my heart sank hearing that. My son was referring to the part of the story Dumbo when Dumbo’s mom, Mrs. Jumbo, got upset that children were making fun of him, and she retaliated at the children, swinging her trunk at them. The circus leaders locked Mrs. Jumbo up in a train car with chains on her ankle to keep her from hurting anyone. He somehow got it into his mind that he would be chained up like that if he sang too loudly.
I desperately wanted to correct his logic. I was heartbroken. So I said gently, “Oh, sweetheart. If you are loud, the most that will happen is someone will say, ‘No Thank You!’ and they’ll ask you to quiet down. They won’t lock you up or put chains on you!” But I was unsuccessful. I could tell by watching him that my words were barely scratching the surface of a fear that was much more deep than logic could touch. A more useful intervention was needed. But what?
“How about you sing loudly right now,” I suggested, “so we can all see that you won’t get in trouble!” It was a good idea, but it didn’t work. He just lifted his hands to cover his eyes. He was too afraid of getting in trouble.
Thankfully, my husband said with lots of joy and excitement, “Let’s all sing really loudly together!!!” What a breath of fresh air. “Yeah!!!” I said, matching my husband’s enthusiasm. So, driving home in the car, my husband and I started singing “Happy Birthday” at the top of our lungs. We sang loudly and off key with joy and glee. Our son looked a little stunned at first, but then he started to sing with us just a little bit. I looked over at him with zeal and started laughing. He started laughing too, and we laughed most of the way through the song. After the first round was over, my husband said, “Who should we sing to next?” “Mommy!!” And so we sang “Happy Birthday to mommy” at the top of our lungs. Then we sang to Daddy, and then to our son, laughing the tension away.
We arrived home with joy on our faces and music in our hearts. We didn’t have to point out that no one got in trouble for singing loudly. It was clear. And it was also clear that laughing helped shake his fear away a lot better than logic!
-A Parenting by Connection mother