It was sports day at my children’s new school. My daughter, 8, was in the first of her races and was keen to “get a place,” as she put it – meaning she wanted to come in first, second or third. She ran the race and came in a joint third place, in her mind at least, but was not awarded an official “place.” She came to me deeply upset and angry. “The man cheated – he was probably the dad of the child he gave the third place to,” she told me angrily. She said she wasn’t going to run in any of the other races, that they had cheated her. That she had come a joint third place and they hadn’t awarded her the place. I struggled momentarily with what to do. Should I go and talk to the father who had awarded the places? Would I seem like a pushy parent?
It occurred to me that the best thing I could do for my daughter in that moment was to Staylisten. I gave her a warm hug, kept my arms around her and said I was sorry this was so hard for her right now. She got angrier and repeated that she wasn’t going to run in any more races and she had been cheated. I kept my loving attention with her and acknowledged how she was feeling. Her anger broke into tears and she cried and cried with my warm attention. I was so glad I was able to do this, and no one interrupted us.
After crying hard, one of her friends from her team ran up to her, saying, “You’re up! This is your next race!” To my surprise and delight, she didn’t hesitate. She ran excitedly to the start line, and won the race by a long way! She jumped herself to victory in the sack race! She seemed to find a huge reserve of energy and confidence, and went on to have an engaged and happy sports day, competing and getting places in a number of other races.
My heart was full of awe at the rejuvenating power of a cry with loving attention. It felt healing to me, after her time at an overly competitive previous school, where any expression of sad feelings after losing a race was met with disapproval. I felt a lot of peace myself, after being there to hear her initial anger and tears, and then watching her give it her all. I was grateful for the opportunity to Staylisten in a context where, I guessed, lots of old feelings were up for both children and parents around competing, winning and losing.
—Anna Cole, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor (living in the UK)
You can learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.