He kicked the floor. He threw himself back and writhed. He sweated as he wailed. He looked at his
Mommy, who was sitting calmly, offering eye contact and words of caring. Every now and then, he met
my gaze. But mostly, he shut his eyes and gave himself over to the passions of the moment.
Safely cradled, he gave us a full illustration of how awful it was that he couldn’t have a pillow, and then,
that he couldn’t climb all the way into his mother’s arms. She held his hands, and his feet were in her lap.
I kept my arms around him as he sat in front of her, and the issue that started it all, “I want my Mommy,”
came clear. He wanted to climb into her lap and stop crying. I gently kept him seated, or writhing, right
next to her. He was in close contact with her, but we kept saying “No” to the things he was hoping would
stop his panic, stop his intense feelings of need.
“No” is a real gift at a time like this. The parent says “No” in plain language, kindness attached.
No to trying to buy peace and quiet with pillows, or a toy, or food, or that blankie or pacifier that always
stops the crying. The parent does “Yes” in the nonverbal language of love. Yes, I offer you my love. Yes, I
will listen to your whole, long, passionate feeling.
His Mommy said “No” to him climbing all the way into her lap, and he cried hard for a long time.
Eventually, he lay quietly in my arms, and peeked at me through one eye again and again. I checked to see
whether he was really finished crying about missing his Mommy. I asked him if we could we move away a
bit from her. He nodded, “Yes.”
I scooted us about a quarter inch farther away. He cried for another minute, then peeked at me again.
“Can we move a little farther away from your Mommy now?”
Another scoot, this time, an inch. Another short cry.
“Can we move again?”
This time, I moved us a foot farther, and he sat there, calmly gazing.
“How about again?”
I moved us halfway across the carpet, and he was fine.
“Want to play now?”
He began to play, found another reason to cry within thirty seconds, and we listened again, for a much
shorter time. After that, there were many giggles, many cuddling games. He had become emotionally
sturdy. His sisters were wrestling with him. He was OK. The three of them played together, jumping and
laughing and falling and bouncing and bumping into each other. All was well.
“No” and his mother’s warm, nonverbal “Yes” and his vigorous emotional scrubbing had cleared the deck
for him, so life could be fun and interesting again.
Of course, this only works to heal a hurt the child is working through if their parent is confident that a little separation is a safe and sane thing to ask. If the parent understands that the emotional work being done is rooted in stored fear, stored feelings of need, stored panic. In reality, being a few inches from one another is not an emergency. And working through those feelings of emergency can relieve a child of lots of worries and fears.
At any moment that a parent would begin to doubt the safety of the situation is a good moment to stop, allow a child to go to their parent, and save the rest of the emotional work that is unfinished until another day. The child needs a parent's confidence as well as their love. As the fear rolls out, their confidence rolls in, making life easier and more secure during all the days to come.