back to list of e-newsletters
Stopping to pay attention to feelings underneath
This lovely story is from Julie Roneson, who used it as her
introduction to a talk by Larry Cohen in
"Last summer, my middle son Roy started behaving differently. At
seven, and going into second grade, Roy was an easy-going,
rough-and-tumble kind of kid, quick to joke, quick to wrestle,
quick to hug and kiss and say I love you. But toward the end of
the summer he became irritable and I, in turn, became irritable
right back. Roy was misbehaving as he'd never misbehaved before.
He was picking fights with his sisters, deliberately ignoring
requests that he help find his shoes, brush his teeth or come
along quickly. I was frustrated.
was also re-reading sections of Playful Parenting by
Larry Cohen. One day I read this: "The most common response by
parents to children's isolation is aggravation or worry. We may
focus on the annoying behavior, not seeing the pain underneath,
or we see the pain all too clearly and feel helpless to fix it."
And this: "Most children gravitate automatically to play that
helps them master the big and little upsets of their lives, just
as we adults like to talk to our friends about the aggravations
in our own lives. When children seem to be struggling, adults
can facilitate their recovery of confidence by playing with
That same day was particularly bad with
I went to work in the morning and came back to reports from the
babysitter that Roy was picking fights with his sisters and
doing nasty things to their Playmobil figures. I was hungry and
I wanted to throw a load of laundry in and finish the breakfast
dishes. I yelled at
instructed him to play nicely and then left him so that I could
sort my darks and lights. When he started to follow me
downstairs, his arms loaded with his share of the Playmobil
people, I felt a little irritated. When he threw his favorite
boy character, "Jonathan," down the stairs after me and it
ricocheted off my heels to
sound effects, I turned around in order to punish Roy, to tell
him to go to his room and spend the day there since he couldn't
"Did you throw that at me?" I asked.
"No. His whole family kicked him down the stairs," Roy said, and
his tone was so angry, so offended, I just had to stop. There
was a long pause while I thought this one through.
"Wow," I said.
Roy, suspicious now.
"That must have really hurt him," I explained.
"His whole family just kicked Jonathan down the stairs. That
must have hurt a lot," I repeated.
Roy, "Jonathan is an idiot."
"Is that what you think?" I asked.
"No, I don't think he is, but he thinks he is," Roy said.
was almost afraid to ask but I said, "Why does he think he's an
"Because," Roy explained, "his family just tells him to get
took a deep breath and said, "Let's you and me bring Jonathan
upstairs and see if we might make him feel better about
Twenty minutes later, Roy was a different person. During that
twenty minutes we didn't have a deep conversation about his
feelings--or mine. Instead, we played. Roy directed the play
completely. I felt so guilty that I hadn't really been listening
to him for a while and I wanted him to feel in control. We set
up the Playmobil people at their farm house, and he introduced
me to the neighbors who happened to live on a sort of floating
castle. He played the parts of the "main" family and I was the
neighbors, just moving in. He wanted to share everything about
what went on in the neighborhood, where the best place was to
buy vegetables, who I should see about acquiring some cows or
sheep. Jonathan (his favorite character) was the expert in all.
Even though he was the "little boy," he was the one who really
had all the answers. My people didn't know an apple ready for
picking from a cow ready for milking. Roy loved it. "I've never
milked a cow before," my girl would say, "I'm from the city, you
know. We just don't know how to do things like that." He would
groan in this theatrical way: "Oh, my gosh, you'll never survive
if you don't know how to do that."
That was the way it went. He called the shots, his people were
farm-savvy and castle-savvy and my people needed help with
everything. I guess it's all pretty obvious, huh?
At the end of about twenty minutes, he suddenly looked up at me
and said, 'I love you, Mamma.'
don't always recover so successfully, but I find I am much more
likely now to consider where my kids are, rather than where I
would like them to be.