278. Useful Distractions

Sometimes, when you’re travelling a long distance in a car, or have some other reason to need some silence and peace, there are children with you who do not feel at all peaceful, and do not feel that silence would be an effective way to express what they’re feeling. It’s important for children to know that you respect their feelings, and so children who are crying loudly, or otherwise altering the peaceful atmosphere you need, must be heard. Besides, you’ll hear them whether or not you listen.
Once, travelling from Natick to Amherst (about eighty miles) with a cranky four-year-old child in the car, I struggled with this issue for a while. At first I thought, the feelings this child is expressing are real, and though I’m skilled at distracting children, I’ve done that too often in my life, and however disturbing it may be to cope with this trauma, the child’s feelings must be heard.
That line of thinking lasted up to Westborough. I was a passenger, not a driver. I was the only adult in the car who did not have the awesome
responsibility of getting us from one place to another safely, and it didn’t take me too long to see what my job was: I was the one who ought to deal with the growing temper tantrum. Summoning up skills I hadn’t used in about twenty years, I looked up at the sky for a distraction (I was in the front seat, and the child was in the back).
“Where are the stars?” I asked. “I’m looking up at the sky, and I can’t see the stars!” I said these words with just a little bit of panic in my voice. Just between you and me, I actually did have a pretty good idea of why I couldn’t see the stars, but I had to do something.
“The clouds are covering them,” answered the child, who knew what it was like to worry about things not being the way you expect them to be. I’m sure that on some level, she knew that I knew where the stars were, but this was an issue she hadn’t expected, and she was quite ready to play along.
I told her that I was going to ask the clouds very nicely to move aside a little so I could see the stars. I tried it, and waited for a few seconds. There was silence in the car (aha!). I told her it hadn’t worked. I still couldn’t see the stars. She explained to me that even though the clouds were alive, they weren’t real, and they couldn’t talk (You may think the clouds are real, but not alive. Small, unimportant detail). I insisted on trying again, but being less nice about it. This time I got tough with the clouds.
We spent the time from Westborough to Sturbridge playing with this subject. All the while, a little voice inside me was telling me that I was doing the child a disservice – getting the child to stop thinking about some real stuff that was bothering her, by distracting her with a silly game. I’m sure there have been times I’ve done that when it would have been better to have listened to children’s real concerns.
But it worked. In fact, by the time we got to Palmer, she was asleep.

Comments are closed.