Calmly Navigating the Storm of Emotional Outbursts
If a group of average, everyday moms were asked to choose a single word to describe their parenting style, I am not sure that many, if any at all, would confidently say “calm”. The world is becoming progressively busier and as a result, tempers have become shorter. The expectations placed on mothers are now more than a single human being can live up to.
As a “working” mom, I spend the day in a stressful office environment, but I still say that come dinner time, the real work begins. Add to that the guilt that I sometimes feel for not having more of a hand in my children’s daily life and stress can run high. By the end of the day, when tiny hands are grabbing and little voices crying, it’s so easy to get frustrated and lose your calm and nurturing nature.
I get it.
So why write this article? Because I am the mother of two young girls. I know what it’s like to be in your shoes because I am wearing a pair of my own. I have lost my temper, raised my voice and used a few choice words in my short career as a mom. More importantly though, when I am upset, I try to think back to the quiet times when they’ve whispered that they love me or that they accomplished something new with such pride and I remind myself- we are raising human beings, not inconveniences.
Please realize that my point is not to shame or judge anyone in this article; I am acutely aware that we’re all doing the very best that we know how. I just want to put forward an idea that may pop into your mind the next time you fear you may lose your mind in the middle of the grocery store because your little one wants that bag of cookies even after you’ve told them no more than once.
Here is my proposal: the next time you are ready to talk down at your child, please try to put yourself in their shoes. Try to consider the perspective that, in this moment, this is their life and their experience. These are the moments and feelings that they will remember and the minutes that will shape them.
Over the last six years, I have tried a few approaches and here is what I have found works for us:
They are not on your level yet so try getting down to theirs.
Whatever your child is upset about, it is important to them right now. If I were upset, trying to deal with it while having a much larger person standing over me would feel very imposing. So when one of my girls is upset, I try to get down to their level physically as much as possible. If they are rolling around on the floor, don’t follow suit… you can only do so much! Try to match their eye level so that they feel that they are on a somewhat equal playing field.
Give them a moment.
Children do not have the same sense of time, and therefore, urgency as adults so they don’t know that they should hurry up with their outburst. Let them have a moment to process how they are feeling. Once they’ve taken time to breathe, try to talk about why they are so distressed. Using a firm, yet calm voice, ask them to explain to you how they are feeling. I have found that taking them by the hand or touching their hair helps to settle them and allows them to feel secure enough to communicate more openly. Try not to interrupt or interject your view of the situation. Let it be about them for just a moment or two.
Use language that lets them know that you hear them.
I try to use phrases like “I hear what you are saying” or “I understand how easy it is to get frustrated when…” followed by a statement which supports my view of the behaviour. For example, if the older of the girls is unhappy that she is not going to get that chocolate bar at the checkout, I will get face to face level, ask why she is disappointed, listen to her reasoning and then may say “I understand that you are upset, however, getting a treat is not something that happens every time we are out”. Argument over. She knows that I understand where she is coming from, that it is not personal and she hasn’t been a “bad” girl, but also, it is now a firm fact that the chocolate is not going to happen. Most times I want to know that she hears me too so I will ask something to the effect of “understand?” in a non-condescending way and once she agrees, we move on.
Once the incident is over, I try not to return to it or past events. By this, I mean, I don’t want to scold “you want a chocolate now and you wanted that toy yesterday- the answer is no”. Children don’t have a concept of money as much as they are unaware of time. They are not greedy, but rather, emotional and impetuous. They don’t think that by asking for something, they’ve done something wrong so it may be confusing. I wouldn’t want someone rubbing every request I’ve ever made in my face. Show by example, be the bigger person and let it go.
The point of the interaction is not to be a softie who babies your child; rather the opposite. The goal is to, as much as possible, treat your child like a capable, communicative, feeling person. You are the most important role model in their lives and if you handle your frustration through anger and negative words, they will learn and be right there beside you recreating the same behaviour.
Here is a real life example. The other day, my six year old got upset at my two year old for tearing apart the bed that she had just “made”. The older child pouted and sat angrily on the couch after telling the younger to “go away” and “leave her alone”. I approached her and though my brain told me to just tell her to “suck it up”, I took that second to put myself on her end of the problem.
I sat down and asked her exactly why she was upset. Her response was that she had worked hard to make the bed and that her effort was now “destroyed”. Though it seemed like a minor slight to me, to my daughter, the work that she had done was now irrevocably demolished. I took her hand and explained that I appreciated the fact that she’d work hard, but that her sister was not trying to be harmful. Rather, she was excited to work on the bed as well because she wanted to be involved with whatever big sister was doing. I also tried to explain that the baby’s actions were not done out of spite, but out of love and imitation. I asked if she knew what I meant, she nodded and went back to her room.
I let it go.
A few minutes later, I was chatting with my husband about something totally unrelated when I overheard my older child say to the younger “I’m sorry that I was angry at you but I worked hard on the bed and you wrecked it. Can you help me fix it?” They then proceeded to put the pillows back-together and within a few minutes, squeals of play and laughter came rolling out of the bedroom. My oldest child had adapted and used my process to address her feelings with her sister! I know that they are six and two years old, but I was proud that they chose to resolve the issue in a calm and receptive way.
This all being said, I am not so naive to think that rainbows and magic solve everything. If your two year old is lying on the floor in a ball of hopeless tears, talking calmly may not be the effective course of action! I also know that tonight when I get home, I may walk in to the sounds of crying because one slapped the other for taking her toy. When I say “may”- I mean probably! They are children and I get that. But they are also people who need emotional support whenever I can lend it. My goal isn’t to discipline and tell them all the things that they do wrong. They are only still learning. My aim as a mother is to build them up and give them the best tools I can to deal with life as they grow for when they are eventually handed worse things than broken cookies.
I’m not a doctor or psychologist; I am a mom learning the ropes. I’m just hoping that by sharing what works for me, it may help you find what will work for you and your growing family. Good luck- to all of us!
What aspect of parenthood do you find most challenging?
Rebecca is a Canadian mom of two little chickadees. She is a wife to a teacher, firefighter and all around good guy. She hopes that each article will provide a small piece of information that can be taken away to help men and women thorough this craziness called parenthood.
© 2015 Rebecca Brooks