The other day there was an issue that required parental attention in the Daly household. Trent was upset that he had been disciplined. I can’t remember whether the offense warranted a spanking or a timeout. Either way, Trent’s reaction was to run to his room and plop down into his soft, oversized-bean bag chair.
One of the things Jean and I try to do after we discipline the boys is to reaffirm our love for them. With that in mind, I walked into Trent’s room. That’s when I found him fortified in his chair. I started to tell him that I still loved him very much and that what he did was not appropriate.
It didn’t take long for me to clue into the fact that Trent was shutting me out. He made no eye contact. There was no nod indicating he was hearing a single word. Everything about his body language said he was upset and not open to a conversation. I was persona non grata.
After some persistence on my part, Trent must have realized I wasn’t going to be easily dissuaded from having a conversation. That’s when he did something unusual. He pointed to a note pad and a pencil. I picked up the items, handed them to him, and asked whether he wanted to answer by writing down his responses. He shook his head as if to say, “Yes.” Okay, I thought, let’s give it a try.
“Why are you upset?”
He wrote, “Because you don’t like me.”
I said, “That’s not true; I love you!”
He wrote, “But sometimes when you talk to me you sound angry.”
I said, “That’s because sometimes the things you do upset me. I know it’s not right for me to sound angry—even though it does make me angry at times.”
This time, Trent took a tad longer to write out his response. He wrote, “I don’t think you love me because of how angry you sound.”
Ouch! I mean to tell you it was real cutting to read those words. It was one of those moments where my son had put together his thoughts which, in turn, filleted my heart. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad for the process. In a way, it was fitting considering what he was feeling. As we interacted back and forth, I could see him starting to slowly come around and warm to me—just as I was gaining a fresh appreciation for how my words spoken in a moment of impatience can wound. By the end, he set aside the paper and pen and used his words to interact.
That’s one parenting tool I’d never heard about before. I’m thankful that by the end of the exchange, his confidence was back and his awareness of my love for him was reawakened in his heart. The fact that I’d take the time to engage him on that level also sent him a powerful signal that I cared enough about his feelings to make him a priority.
I shared this story with a friend who asked, “What might have happened if you didn’t pursue him?” No question, Trent would have pulled away from me emotionally as well as physically and, worse, I might not have had a clue as to why he had become distant.
Knowing that Trent has that kind of personality that will withdraw and if he’s offended, pull away, I’m being intentional in chasing him into his room or whatever place he might seek out in order to put distance between us. Once I find him, I know I’ve got to spend whatever time is necessary on the floor with him, looking him eye-to-eye, and talking with him through the difficulties.
Asking Trent how he’s doing emotionally—even if it requires paper and pen—is something I know I’ve got to do in order to keep the channels open between us. I can tell it makes a huge difference when I spend time helping him identify what’s going on in his heart. If you’ve found another approach that unlocks the heart of your child I’d love to hear about it.