There is a home video of me that my parents love to show. I'm about 7 years old, and we're all outside "playing" in the snow. I put "playing" in quotation marks because I'm actually squatting in the dirt, playing with a stick. I'm sulking because I wanted to walk in the snow, but my brother had gotten there first, and now, my perfectly unmarred snow playground was covered in footprints. And I was annoyed, so I decided the entire morning was now ruined, and on the video, you can hear my parents say, "Sarah, come play!" And I'm determined to be angry, so I don't participate.
But the universe works in mysterious ways. Now, years later as a parent, I get to deal with this same quality in my intense and dramatic 3 year old. My son is awesome in so many ways. He is sweet, kind, fun, silly, and helpful. But if he has an idea in his head about the way something should go, and the "script" changes, he just loses it. And while most of the time this happens at home, when it does happen, it is majestic. Kicking. Screaming. Shouting. Throwing things, even. And the worst part of these tantrums is that I know what he's thinking.
I know how he's feeling.
But it still frustrates me so much.
My child has inherited one of my worst traits.
And the worst part is, I have no idea how to handle him when he reacts this way! My mother keeps saying to me, "What did you want us to do when you were little? Act like that." But I really have no idea. And preventing it does no good either. That would mean that he got his way all the time, which obviously is unrealistic. And, as much as I hate to admit this, when he acts this way, even though I understand and empathize with him, I get so frustrated!
Today, when he was rolling on the floor in anger, screaming and shouting, because the game didn't go exactly as he'd planned, (and of course, his tantrum woke his sister up from her nap,) I was starting to feel angry. But I didn't want to yell, like I have in the past, and just exacerbate the situation. So I took a breath. I finished nursing my daughter, put her down in the pack and play, and walked into his room. I wanted to yell at him.
But I didn't. I remembered all the research I've read. Speak calmly. Validate their feelings. Get down to their level. Ok. Ok.
I got down to his level. I put my hands on his shoulders and I said, "I'm angry at you." He continued to cry. I said, "I'm angry at you." He looked at me, the tears subsiding. I said, "I'm angry at you because you are screaming and carrying on, and you have woken up your sister and that isn't fair. I know you are upset because the game didn't work out the way you wanted. That is sad. But you cannot scream. That makes me upset and it wakes up your sister. This is quiet time."
It was miraculous. He stopped crying. He looked at me. "Mommy, I'm tired."
"Ok," I answered. And then I tucked him in, and we talked for a few minutes about being angry and yelling and screaming.
And then he slept for one hour.
And woke up crying. And I got to try my new strategy again. Lucky me.
Sarahlynne, co-creator of merelymothers.com, loves writing for Shine as a Parenting Guru. She also just published her first book, "Making Kid Time Count: 0-3: The Attentive Parent Advantage," where she outlines how a parent can maximize their time with their young child.