Silas asks me to put a blanket on him. I pick up his favorite one, appropriately named “big white”. I fluff it up in the air and let it fall gently around his body – just like I always do. Peace in my heart as I lovingly take care of my sweet boy. And then…
VOLCANIC ERUPTION of emotion explodes out of my child!!
He screams, “No, not like that, like this.” I fix it and verify, “like this” I ask?
“Noooo!!!”….. followed by the saddest crying and devastation known to man.
The peace in my heart is quickly replaced by a bit of anxiety, a sprinkle of fear and a splash of anger. I think to myself how much I would love if someone would wrap me in a warm blanket. I wonder if I should explain to him that there are children in the world who don’t have any blankets at all. I feel tired and a little disappointed. I feel tired. TIRED, ah yes. And so is he…
His 3 year old little body and mind had a long day; he is tired and overwhelmed. It’s not my job to judge his emotions. I need to put myself in his shoes. It’s not the time to teach him about gratitude or poverty. It’s not right to get angry at him and tell him he is overreacting. These are his emotions, in this moment, in his own stage of understanding and development. Besides, I’m not even sure he knows what “overreacting” means. And it certainly doesn’t pop into my mind that this is the perfect time to video or take a picture of my child.
I want him to know that his feelings are important. So I get down to his level, look him in the eye and give him my “I love you and I’m concerned for you” face. He notices and catches his breath.
I want him to see that caring about the feelings of others is crucial. So I ask if he is OK and if he wants a hug. He nods his head yes and I graciously deliver (or sometimes not, and I respect that too). Either way I start taking obvious slow and deep breaths and wait for him to follow.
I would never want him to feel shameful because of his emotional reactions. So I say, “You really didn’t like that blanket right there did you? I understand honey.”
I want him to learn better ways to communicate. So, I ask him if he would like to explain to me in a nice voice where he’d like his blanket to be.
Connect. Empathize. Guide. I can’t say that this is the answer for every child, but I believe in my heart that a variation of this could be helpful for many children. As parents when we connect, empathize and guide, we help our child develop the necessary skills to understand and regulate their own emotions – so they can learn the balance that we as adults are striving to find once again.
A.C.T. (Action Changes Things):
Does your child’s extreme reactions cause extreme reactions within yourself?
Is it fair to think that ours are allowable and theirs are not?
Next time you want to react to their reaction, stop.
Breathe in, breathe out – SLOWLY… until your flared up feelings start to ease and you are able to once again focus on the distress of your child.
Try to stay soft and calm. Use your “zen” energy in hopes of it becoming contagious to your child. Sometimes this happens easily, almost miraculously. Sometimes not. Sometimes the words you carefully choose are perfect, other times not so much.
Go easy on yourself and your little growing person. His feelings are real, just like yours. His mistakes are learning opportunities, just like yours.
I promise… the more you try the connect, empathize and guide approach the easier it becomes for you & the quicker your child responds. You will notice his frustrations, and also his ability to understand himself better. You will notice his feelings, and his growing ability to find his voice. You will notice less and less volcanic eruptions, and soon he will make himself feel better by calming himself and finding solutions to his problems.
Sound crazy? Give it a try.
Find your way,
Jess Thompson, get REAL mama