Today a 5 year old came to my office with his mother to meet with the other clinician. The little guy was crying. It seems he had gotten in trouble (again) for talking and the teacher had reprimanded him and he had been reduced to tears. This is the second time I have seen this kiddo crying like his heart is breaking because an adult has punished him. He is very sensitive and appears quite remorseful for his misbehaviors. The first time, mom told him to "Toughen up, mister", not in a mean way, just in a "the world is a rough place and you need to grow up and get used to it, pronto" kind of way.
Today when she came in, he trailed behind her, his tears leaving big tracks down his cheeks. His sobs were loud and gaspy. The other clinician asked him if he could stop crying long enough for his mom and her to make important phone calls. "NO!" he wailed and started sobbing even harder. That did it for me. "Hey, come over here," I said. "Would sitting in my lap help?"
"YES!" he said chin quivering.
He laid down his tiny backpack and climbed up in my lap. I wrapped my arms around him and leaned my chin on top of his head and rocked him gently. He started to quiet down. Mom and the clinician started phone calls. As they made them, I just held the little guy, rubbing circles on his back until I felt him relax and sigh. I whispered to him that if he wanted to get down and get a toy, that was ok. But it was also OK to stay where he was if he wanted. It was his choice. He stayed put.
The world is a rough place. Adults can be loud and scary. They yell sometimes. They don't listen to a little kid's explanation of why he was talking. Adults are quick to punish at times. Kids really do need to toughen up.
But there is plenty of time for that; it can happen tomorrow. Today they just needed to be held and to feel safe, if only for a few moments.