Last week I took Sally to the park. When we pulled in, she completely freaked out. She started crying and yelling.
No! Not here! Go back out, mommy!
I responded as I normally do.
Sally, it’s okay, calm down. Tell mommy what’s wrong. … Honey, just take a deep breath, calm down, and use your words. … Sally, I’m trying to listen to you, but I can’t understand what you want while you’re crying.
This went back and forth for a minute or two, with her crying and me trying to figure out what was wrong. Finally, Sally paused.
I need calm down, she said. Sleeping help me calm down.
Do you want to go home and take a nap? I asked.
Do you want to take a nap in the car?
So I turned the car off and sat back in my seat. Sally laid her head on her car seat and began to play with her hair as she is like to do. After about two minutes, I heard a perfectly calm and controlled voice coming from the back seat.
Mommy? I not want go to this park. I want to go to OTHER park. Can we go to other park please?
And so we went to the other park.
The longer I’ve parented the more importance I’ve placed on calming down. There are so many times when Sally gets so worked up that she literally can’t communicate let alone reason or broker a compromise, and the solution is always the defuse the situation and help her calm down. There are evenings at home where she becomes overwrought and I suggest she lay down on her bed and take a short nap – and she frequently takes me up on that, willingly. If, in contrast, I don’t try to defuse the situation and instead join Sally in escalating by responding in anger at her inability to communicate or at the amount of noise she is making, the situation simply gets worse rather than better.
Positive Parenting resources actually recommend having a “calm down corner” for your small children for exactly this reason. The idea is that the calm down corner isn’t a punishment, it simply gives the child time to calm down enough to actually handle the situation.
And of course, calming down isn’t just for the child. Sometimes it’s just as important for me to calm down as it is for Sally. And really, when I calm down, maybe step outside or sit for a minute with a cup of tea or simply take a deep breath and remember what really is important and what isn’t, well, the world looks just that much easier to handle – for me as well as for Sally.