Forever Family: holding space, part 2

This morning’s post looked at what the “Life Is Therapy” workshop* taught us about holding space for kids in meltdown.

Starting with this behavior was a no brainer because, frankly, our kids don’t disengage right now.  Quite the opposite, really.  Disappointment or frustration are met with a balls to the wall fury that makes everything else fade away.

But I hear tell that there are kids who go radio silent when they’re upset, so let me speak to what we learned about that particular area.

I’ll share with you the example from our workshop session.

You’ve got a girl who’s completely shut down.  Maybe she’s had a horrible day, maybe a friend treated her badly, or maybe she’s just mad at the universe…whatever the trigger, it made her go silent and broody and pissed as hell.  Your attempts to “talk it out” are met with crossed arms and deep sighs.

The point of this whole process is to connect and be present with your child while she’s dealing with pain so the whole fine, come talk to me when you’re done sulking approach doesn’t really apply. They showed us a role play to demonstrate how you might handle this, one that in all honesty made me feel like crawling out of my skin.

Two women are sitting in a row of chairs.  The “girl” is completely antagonistic, refusing to respond to any attempt at interaction by the “mom.”  All of the mom’s statements are delivered softly and compassionately.

Mom:  It looks like you’re having a hard day.
Girl:  [chin down, arms crossed, lips pursed]
Mom:  [sits quietly in nearby chair]
Girl:  [sighs]
Mom:  [waits 30 seconds]  It’s okay if you don’t want to talk.
Girl:  [stares at floor]
Mom:  [sits beside girl, also staring at floor]
Mom:  [30 seconds later]  I’m just going to sit here with you.
Girl:  [deep sigh, shifts in chair]
Mom:  [sits quietly for 10 seconds then shifts to mirror girl’s body language]
Girl:  [moves one seat further away]
Mom:  [waits 30 seconds then quietly moves to the seat near girl, sits and stares into distance with her]
Mom:  [breathes slowly, girl begins to mimic breathing]
Mom:  [shifts two inches closer to girl, girl stiffens and turns slightly away, mom immediately slides back to original position]
Mom:  [30 seconds later, quietly]  We can sit here as long as you need.

By the end of that role play the girl’s breathing had regulated and she’d started to feed off mom’s calm and focused energy.  She wasn’t a chatty Cathy or anything, but she wasn’t radiating frenzied angst.  There was simply a…shift.

Now here’s what I was thinking as I watched:

Ours usually flip out.  Well, sometimes T-man goes radio silent while he’s trying to control his emotions.  Nothing like this though.  That girl’s like Fort Knox.  

[A minute passes.]  Oh my god, the mom’s just sitting there, how does she just SIT there like that without saying anything?  HOW IS SHE JUST SITTING THERE??

[Another minute passes.  My chest tightens and I can feel myself getting more anxious.]  I think my head’s gonna explode.  She’s just…sitting.  And staring.  And sitting.

[After another minute.]  OH MY GOD, HOW LONG ARE THEY GOING TO SIT THERE LIKE THAT?!

Umm, yeah.  So you can see I’ve got some Type A issues to work on before I’ll be good at simply sitting with someone through their pain.  But awareness is the first step, right?

We’re in a somewhat explosive stage with the kids right now, but I have a feeling this sort of thing will come as they age into the teenage years.  Hopefully by then I’ll be better equipped to be present with them in the moment without feeling the urge to talk through the silences.


Forbes, Heather T. (2016).  “Life is Therapy: Embracing Negative Moments as Healing Moments.” Session presented at the 4th Annual Adoption Conference, Charlotte, NC.

One thought on “Forever Family: holding space, part 2

  1. Pingback: Forever Family: handle with care | Riddle from the Middle

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