I saw two different kids, in two different situations, fall off their bicycles.
What happened after in each, though, was completely different.
Both were riding with what I assume to be a parent— one with Mom, the other with Dad.
The first fall I witnessed was four years ago. The little boy was maybe 3 or 4 years old. He fell off his bike while braking at a crosswalk — going at a slow speed — and was on the brink of crying when he looked up at Mom. Mom had not become reactive at all. She was still on her bike, holding his bike upright and gesturing for him to get up and back on his bike. The boy aborted the hysteria, got up without shedding a tear and continued riding, right past where I was seated, as if it never happened.
The second boy who fell off his bike — this was three weeks ago — threw a tantrum.
This kid was older, maybe 6 or 7 years of age, and the parent was a man. The boy put on quite a show after falling: loud cries and wailing, and Dad consoled him with deep it’s-gonna-be-alright words and hugs. It took everything in me not to laugh at the scene.
I was the sole witness of the first kid’s falling. Anna was with me when the second, more recent one happened. After we both had watched the kid and the dad recreate a soap opera scene, I told Anna about the first kid falling and how there were no theatrics.
I went on to hypothesize and assert that the reason for the contrast was the reaction of each parent: the Mom of kid #1 remained calm and non-reactive, and her son followed suit. The Dad of kid #2 made the fall a big deal, and so did the crying child.
Parental energy controls all!!!
Anna listened patiently to my soapboxing, then offered a different perspective.
The response of the kid who falls off their bike is not about how the parent reacts in the moment, she said. It’s inversely reflective of the amount of attention that particular kid is getting otherwise, outside of the bike ride.
In other words, the child who could fall off his bike and not cry about it could do so not because of his Mom’s energy osmosis, or because he’s physically tougher than other 3-year-olds, but because he’s receiving enough emotional support elsewhere in the relationship with his parents that he doesn’t need to cry to get emotional attention from his parents.
The hysterical kid, possibly, is not getting much emotional attention from his parents on a normal, non-emergency basis — so that fall off the bike is a great opportunity to finally get some empathy from Dad. And it worked.
This made me think about other relationships in life, and how people sometimes react in ways disproportionate to what has occurred. The theory makes sense: it’s the release of bottled-up emotions that haven’t had the space to express itself. The situation — and argument, some random event, your falling off of a bicycle — provides a good-enough pretext to finally let all of that energy out.
Holding Space: to be physically mentally and emotionally present for someone. To be “with” them without judgement.
When we have held sufficient space for a person, their reactions to events are more proportionate to what’s happened — as opposed to the overreactions of those who’ve never had a chance to feel anything with anyone who mattered to them.
The more I think about it, when I think of people who were/are so quick to anger and fighting, those who cry over everything, people who see a threat in even the most bening events and comments, the more sense it makes.
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