My kindergartener came home from school the other day and said, "Daddy, I think I'm stupid." I quickly reacted to this absurdity by launching headlong into a counterattack of mythic proportions. "Stupid?! Are you kidding? You are the smartest, most amazing child in the world! Here, let me give you a few examples of your brilliance…"
Confident in my ability to craft a compelling argument, I was sure my little dumpling would soon see the error in her logic. I also knew that she would then experience a gigantic boost in self-esteem once she saw the light.
But instead of being swayed by the brilliance of my reasoning she simply redoubled her efforts to convince me otherwise. We were soon in a tug-o-war over her limited intelligence, and I wasn't going to win. I could feel the rope slipping.
Then I got smart, and set down the rope. I stopped trying to talk her out of her feelings. I took a breath, felt the sadness that comes with feeling stupid, and I joined her. "Oh honey, that's hard," I began. "What's going on that you're feeling that way?" And she told me. It was a cute story and I had to bite my lip to keep from smiling. I took another breath and stayed with her.
I left space. I let her feel sad. I felt sad with her. Soon something both ordinary and magical happened. As kids do with such ease and grace, she moved through the feelings, and was quickly on to something else.
Funny how I was still feeling sad long after she had moved on. Thankfully, there was plenty of time later for me to tell her what a genius I thought she was.