Monday, 5 October 2015

Parenting is Hard, resisting makes it harder

4213466221_8c57f2309e_oThe child is standing screaming hateful words, throwing things, biting, scratching, kicking, hitting… totally gone ‘feral,’ as a friend calls it.

Everyone who has ever seen one will recognize this as an extreme temper tantrum, and just what they look like in a child older than about 3 (and adults.)

There are a lot of theories about how to handle a child whose brain has gone offline, and who is now fully out of control of all higher level brain functions. My personal favourite means is ‘don’t get there in the first place,’ but sometimes shit happens.

When it happens, it is popular to try to ‘stop it’ by doing common things.

Like the withdrawal of support and affection (sending to rooms, etc.) until the emotional expressions are all happy. Yay drugs! Choose uppers.

Like yelling. Yes, because yelling is going to calm anyone’s brain down.

Spanking has its advocates, because that won’t further overload anyone’s sensory input channels. It may push their brain into a traumatized fugue state, which probably looks like ‘it worked’ to some people who don’t know what that brain state means…

Counter-intuitively, what actually works is describing what is going on, in words.

You are really frustrated because that didn’t go your way.

How infuriating! You just want it to not have broken.

It is really important to you to get the red cup!

2698598542_4c36e163ed_oIt feels like this method will ‘give permission’ for horrible behaviour. Kids don’t think that way, so that can be dismissed without really being addressed.

It also feels like this will amplify the feelings instead of eradicate them (the goal of the three options most often recommended by ‘experts,’ as listed above) It won’t, and I can tell you why:

When you have room in your world for the expression and understanding of emotions, they don’t hang around. Emotions are like hunger: feel and understand the message of the emotion and it dissipates, just as hunger dissipates with feeding.

So, instead of leaning away from emotions hoping they’ll just go away (or trying to shout them away, ‘cause really: how can that work?) stop resisting.

The emotion is the whole reality for this child right now, with absolutely no room for the child’s tiny body to hold anything else: learning, ‘getting it,’ the message behind punishment, ‘thinking about it,’ or ‘their attention’ to be on anything but this huge emotional reality.

Yes, even if it is something ‘silly’ like the colour of the cup.

It’s not about the colour of the cup, it’s about the feelings provoked by not getting the colour right, by not being able to decide which colour is right or not being allowed or able to pick the right colour, by frustration, disappointment, rage, grief, sadness, fury, and even by simply being totally overwhelmed by having to make a decision that doesn’t matter –again—about an issue that doesn’t matter but that stops the flow of everything until it’s decided.

It’s not about the cup, it’s about the feelings.