One gloomy winter day I realised that, instead of concentrating on my work, I was developing far too close a relationship with the contents of my fridge. So I collected my papers, left my laptop behind and headed to the café in my local branch of Borders.
Some mums were sitting on the sofas, chatting and sipping their frappuccinos while their kids were happily playing nearby. An ideal setting for preparing a talk about raising boys, I thought.
I turned my head to see a little boy, perhaps five years old, wailing and clutching his leg. ‘Mummy, Mummy!’ he cried.
‘Let me have a look,’ said Mum. ‘Where does it hurt?’
‘Here! Here!’ he sobbed.
‘It’s nothing. There is nothing there,’ said Mum.
‘Waa! Waa! It hurts! Waa!’
‘Don’t cry, the bang wasn’t nearly as loud as it was last time you bumped your leg on something.’
‘I want Daddy! Daddy!’ the boy shouted.
‘Daddy is at work. Would you like a muffin or a cake?’
‘Daddy! Daddy!’ he cried, even louder.
‘Daddy is at work,’ repeated Mum in an increasingly annoyed voice. ‘Muffin or cake?’
Mum took hold of the crying boy’s hand, and they both headed for the food counter. A few minutes later he was sitting quietly, biting into a huge chocolate cookie.
I’m sure Mum meant well. When she said that it was nothing, she probably meant to reassure – no blood, no broken bones… Maybe she wanted to remind her son that he had overcome even worse incidents… Or perhaps it was hard for her to hear her son crying, and she felt embarrassed because people were watching her. This is all understandable. But whatever her reasons, Mum ended up denying her son’s feelings. And, instead of giving affection, she offered food as comfort. Crying is a normal, healthy response to pain. The boy probably needed some old fashioned kiss-it-better, with a hug and a few words of sympathy. When we ignore or deny our children’s pain, they cry and shout even more to show us that they hurt. When we comfort them and acknowledge how they feel, we help them to calm down.