When Sad or Bad Things Happen At Christmas

Dear Santa

Remember this letter from a few years ago, when Ireland was covered in snow?

The elves found Jade’s three legged cat, Tripod, and showed her the way home.  She’d been lost for SEVEN weeks. The family was so happy to see her again.

But sometimes sad or bad things happen, that we can’t fix.

What would you like parents to know about that, Santa?



Dear PercyPostElf

I’m glad you asked, Percy. Christmas isn’t a happy time for many children, or their parents.  I imagine it can feel even worse, or more lonely, because everybody else seems happy.

As Parents we want our children to be happy. But I think it’s helpful to realize that we live in a 3D world. And in a 3D world there are shadows. Sadness is the shadow side of love – it’s part of the dimensionality of life. We often want to protect our children from the sad feelings they experience when something feels ‘not okay’.

We often try to jolly our children out of them, or make light of their ‘shadow’ emotions. We use expressions like ‘You’ll be fine,’ (or in Ireland they say ‘You’ll be grand.’) We start talking about something happier. This doesn’t make the sadness go away – it just makes it go underground.

What does help?

Imagine a beautiful Persian carpet. There are dark areas in the pattern. In fact, these add to the richness and beauty of the pattern. It’s like that with the pattern of life.

There are times when we can’t stop the ‘dark patches’ from happening, but we can help our children to make sense of them.  Otherwise they stay like tangled knots on the back of the rug. To help our children ‘untangle the knots’, we need to listen to their stories. To be present to what they need to say, we need to PARK our own stuff – our own opinions, our need to make it better. When we PARK we can CONNECT in a way that lets the child tell their own story. When the child is given the space to tell her own story and has it acknowledged, through your listening presence, she is able to untangle the knots and weave it into the fabric of her life.

A very practical book that I’d love to pop into every parent’s Christmas stocking  is ‘The Whole Brain Child’  by neuroscientist Daniel  J. Siegel and Tina Payne  Bryson.  A person’s mental well-being does not depend on whether bad things do or don’t happen to people, what makes the difference is whether they weave that into the fabric of their lives.

Parents can learn more about  what’s really needed to listen to their children from  the Koemba Parent Coaching blog articles. I think they’d especially find ‘Koemba- CONNECT’ helpful.

To Parents who are feeling ‘not okay’ this Christmas, I’d like to encourage them that strong emotions are like waves. They can feel huge and devastating at times but they will pass over. If you are  feeling overwhelmed with life at this point, pick up the phone and find help. There are people and organisations who want to be there for you. ‘This too shall pass.’

We let ‘Happy Christmas’ roll off our tongues, but for some people that’s not their reality. I wish we greeted each other with ‘Have a wonder-ful Christmas’, because, even when sad or bad things happen, we can experience the wonder of life in different ways.



P.S. Tomorrow I’ll be chatting about what to do when families experience conflict.


Day 1   What to do with Children’s ‘Great Expectations’?

Day 2  ‘Need’ or ‘Want’

Day 3  Dealing with Disappointment

Day 4  Christmas Surprises

Day 5  Three Key Questions Regarding Purchases

Day 6  No Money This Christmas

Day 7  Christmas is for Giving

Day 9  When Grown Ups Fight

Day 10 An Attitude of Gratitude

Day 11 Can’t Forgive

Day 12 Christmas – What Really Matters




Last edited December 07th 2018

‘Somebody Hold Me’

Something quite amazing happened this week. Becky was on the floor playing with the grandkids while I was sitting on the couch enjoying a visit with their parents. Suddenly, a balloon popped. Twenty-five month old Maggie immediately stopped playing and slowly stood up silent for a few seconds. Then, raising her arms in the air, she softly said, “Somebody hold me.” Becky had been watching her and was aware that the balloon had startled her. She reached out and wrapped her loving arms around Maggie, held her up for a few moments as any loving grandmother would do, then she set her back down and Maggie went back to playing.

When I realized what I had just observed I was astounded. The balloon popping frightened this little 2-year-old girl. Yet she wasn’t overwhelmed with the flood of fear, which might have been demonstrated with screaming and uncontrollable crying. Instead, she was able to recognize her need in reaction to the balloon popping, regulate that need, and put it into words by way of a request, “Somebody hold me.”

Now, for a little background: Our daughter Kim and her husband Dirk, Maggie’s parents, have been using the Imago Dialogue process with mirroring, validating and empathizing with Maggie from the time she was born. Before they teach or discipline her, they mirror what she says by repeating back to her and telling her that she makes sense. Then they take whatever corrective measures they need by redirecting her thoughts or by helping her find words to express herself. So here is a two-year-old who rather than just crying when the balloon pops has learned to process the need she has and put it into words: “Somebody hold me.” Her parents, through this process, are teaching her that it is okay to ask for what she needs.

One very difficult task for many people is to express their needs to their partners. We tell ourselves stories like, “I don’t want to be a bother,” or “Nobody really cares about me,” or “I shouldn’t ask for help.” So what we do instead is simply complain, feel frustrated and sometimes “cry like a baby.” Perhaps it is because crying is how most of us learned to express our needs and we were simply not taught to express them with words.

What is interesting is that most of us have partners who really would like to do those things for us that would help us feel more loved, secure, important and cared for. The good news is that it is never too late to learn something new. It is okay to ask for what you need. You can help your partner learn to express those needs by mirroring, validating (“you do make sense”), and empathizing. This is a simple yet profound process. But more than a process, it is a very different way of being with your partner that helps in the transformation process from the old unconscious way of being to letting the genuine conscious you emerge.

With thanks to my friend and colleague,  Dr. Tony Victor,  for his article. Tony and his wife, Becky, have been on a relational journey over the last 38 years.  It has been the best of times and the worst of times.  Together they have faced life’s adversities as well as life’s blessings.

Dr. Victor is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor.  He is a certified Imago Therapist, Advanced Imago Clinician, Certified Imago Consultant to therapists and a Certified Imago Couples Workshop Presenter.  He is also a Fellow with the American Association of Pastoral Counselors.   His training and professional experience reflect a variety of psychological and theological foundations.  His early training and experience included a Doctorate of Ministry in Pastoral counseling and a postdoctoral three-year clinical internship in psychodynamic psychotherapy with an emphasis on object relations and family systems theory.  His later training included certification and advanced studies in Imago Relationships Theory.  Today Dr. Victor specializes in Relationship Therapy.




Last edited April 12th 2011

Get my kids to listen, How?

In the ‘Mum Song’ how many orders do you count ?

I make it seventy-three.  And the Mum Song is only three minutes long!

And that’s not counting the criticisms and the questions.

Anita Renfroe’s exaggeration is glorious.

If we were to record our morning serenade would we hear a similar monologue?

Anita demands her child to hear what she’s saying.

Children don’t hear us when they don’t feel heard.

What‘s the morning song in your house?

What might it be like listening to you?

Is it working?

What would you prefer to do differently?

What would be more helpful to create the atmosphere you desire?

“To listen to someone, to take respectful turns discussing the issue until you reach an unforseeable, good agreement is to dignify you both, to keep you both thinking clearly and acting responsibly.”

Kline Nancy, ‘Time to Think’  Cassell Illustrated, 1999, London, p. 235

Last edited May 14th 2010

Johnny’s freckled face frowns with concentration.

His wet tongue protrudes slightly in the corner of his mouth.

His fingers carefully move the little red Lego block into position.

Almost finished!

His thumb and third finger hold the smooth angular surfaces upright.

He eases it into position on the roof.

He’s nearly made the car.

Johnny gives a small grin.

He’ll show dad he did it all by himself.

He presses downward on the nobbly top surface of the block.


Johnny stares in dismay. His beautiful car!

Smithereens – shiny red, blue and white blocks scattered on the floor.

The little black wheels spin upside down.

‘My car!’ he wails.

The cheerful blocks swim in a brown sea as his eyes fill with disappointed tears.

Dad’s arm is gently on his back. He kneels down.

‘You took so long building your car and then it broke.  You’re feeling really upset about that?’

Johnny nods. Gulps. The tears bubble out.

Johnny burrows his wet face into Dad’s comforting shoulder.

Daddy’s here. He understands.

In sharing this story with me the parent reflects,

‘Before learning about a coaching approach to parenting I would have said something like,

“Oh it’s okay. We can build it again. Don’t get upset.”

Now I stay present to what he is experiencing.

I know that Johnny “felt felt”.

And once he’d cried out his disappointment he set to and rebuilt his car.

The connection between us was really great.’

What’s your response when your child experiences disappointment?

What’s  helpful to ensure your child ‘feels felt’?

Last edited April 14th 2010