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Shooting Away a Crinkly Heart with Happiness

July 3, 2015
When I was growing up, talking to other kids gave me mountains of anxiety.  I had a terrible time making friends. The suggestion “Just go over and ask if you can play” was akin to suggesting I cut off my pinky finger with a cigar cutter.

I would withdrawal at the first sign of discomfort.  Other than my cousins, I had no actual friends until late in middle school.  It wasn’t until 11th grade I finally beat the anxiety and found some confidence.

So, needless to say, I have been very worried that my son would have similar issues.

After something that happened this week, though, my concern is starting to dissipate.

My son Jack Jr is 6.5.  My wife and I have not been the greatest at getting him together with friends, something we are actively working on.  To that end, we finally got him over his best friend’s house (for the first time in months…we suck).

By his account, he had a lot of fun.  However, shortly before I arrived to pick him up, a couple neighborhood boys came over.  One of them apparently took a disliking to Jack.  In my son’s words:

“He kept saying I was cheating at everything.  He said I was cheating in soccer and in freeze tag, but I wasn’t.  Then he told me a bunch of times I should “Zip my mouth!”

I asked him what he did when the kid was saying those things.  He answered:

“I just ignored those things he was saying to me.”

We were in the car, and through a quick glimpse in the rear view mirror I saw him start to fidget.  Then his voice started to break a little.  I braced myself.

“Daddy.  Remember when you said any time my heart gets crinkly I should talk to you about it?”

A crinkly heart is his amazingly apt description of anxiety.  We had a talk a few weeks ago that anxiety is OK, that its there to warn us something might be wrong.  But I told him sometimes anxiety goes haywire, and so he should talk to me whenever he feels it so we can learn to deal with it together.

After I assured him he should definitely tell me, he had this amazing thing to say:

“Well, when that kid was being mean my heart got crinkly and it made me feel sad.So, I just ignored the mean things he was saying. And then, my happiness shot the crinkly feeling away, and my good feelings came back. Every time he did it, my happiness pushed the crinkly feeling away and made me feel better.  I just thought about my happiness every time.”

At that moment, each chamber in my heart went in a different direction.  I was anxious and annoyed that my son was treated badly, I was stunned and speechless by his amazing insight, I was proud…I mean  crazy freaking proud, and I was relieved that my son may not endure the years of loneliness I did.

After my mouth moved wordlessly for a few moments (it really did) I could think of nothing to say other than “Son…you are amazing.” To which he replied humbly “Thanks.”

After that we came up with the idea that the next time this happens, he should approach his friend’s parents and say “I think Kid X and I are having a hard time. Could you help us play better together?” He rather liked that idea.

There is a ton of parenting advice articles that seem to come at things from every conceivable angles. It can be exhausting figuring it all out. One thing that seems generally consistent is getting your kids to understand their emotions is important.

We try our best to get our kids to tell us how they are feeling and help them to understand why they feel that way. It seemed like the right thing to do, but we were never quite sure.

After seeing his ability to work through this all on his own, I am definitely a believer.

Have your kids every impressed you with handling situations better than you had as a kid?

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