Sometime last year, shortly after Bobby was born, Sally had the worst temper tantrum she has ever had. Sean was working late and I had the kids. Bobby was fussy and I was trying to cook supper and I don’t even remember what set Sally off. But she wasn’t the only one who got mad—I got mad too. Really angry, and not just at her. My evening was not going as planned. Sally was lying on the ground, screaming and kicking things. So I chose a course of action and took it. I turned off the stove, grabbed Bobby, and put myself in a timeout in the bathroom. I sat there and held him and listened to Sally scream in the hall and tried not to cry. But in retrospect, I think I made the right call. I didn’t do anything I would regret, and removing myself and Bobby from the situation gave Sally the time she needed to calm down. And I knew where Sally was the whole time—in the hall outside the door—so it wasn’t like she was in danger of hurting herself or destroying something.
When the noise in the hall stopped I came out, and Sally was laying on the floor quietly, almost asleep. She opened her eyes and spoke to me calmly, addressing the issue that had set her off. And so we talked about it, calmly, and found a solution to whatever the problem had been, a solution she had been too overwrought for us to reach earlier.
When Sally gets upset and starts into a tantrum, I speak to her calmly. “Honey, it’s okay, I know you’re upset. Take a deep breath and let’s talk about it, and we’ll try to work something out.” Sally knows I mean that. She knows I listen to her, and she knows I take her input into account when making decisions. And she, in turn, listens to my concerns as well. Last week when we had to leave the park I told her it was Bobby’s bedtime, and she suggested that we stay and that Bobby could sleep in the stroller. In other words, she was listening to my concerns just as I listen to hers, and trying to find a solution that everyone could be happy with. Of course, sometimes the answer is still “no,” but even when that happens Sally at least knows I listened, and knows from experience that the answer isn’t always “no.”
Anyway, when Sally starts getting upset and moving the direction of a tantrum it’s not uncommon for her to pause and say “I need to calm down. I know! I will rest.” And often she’ll go lay down on the sofa in the living room and close her eyes, trying to relax, and then come back a few minutes later ready to discuss whatever it was calmly and rationally. Sometimes it’ll be me who suggests that she rest, and calm down, and then we can talk about it, and she’s usually receptive. But sometimes it doesn’t work, and when she does throw a tantrum I let her—I just don’t let her hurt anyone in the process and I simply wait for it to end.
I still remember a time last fall when I drove Sally to the park, only for her to announce when we got there that it was the wrong park. I asked which park she’d wanted, but it was too late. She hadn’t had a nap that day and was tired, and was getting really worked up. Suddenly she said “I need to calm down! I need to sleep!” And she closed her eyes and rested her head, still strapped into her car seat, and took a nap. I opened a book and figured I could wait. Several minutes later she woke up and told me calmly that we were at the wrong park, and told me which park she’d wanted. And so I drove her there, because it wasn’t a big deal. If there’d been some reason we’d gone to that park in particular, I would have talked her through that, and explained, and addressed her concerns, and that would have been okay too.
In the end, I’m trying to teach Sally how to understand her own feelings and reactions as well as other people’s feelings and reactions, and how to handle and deal with those feelings and reactions and negotiate and navigate the world of others’ feelings and reactions. And I want her to understand that these are things I deal with, too.