in the last few weeks my beanie boy has taken up a new version of a temper tantrum. this must be the almost four year old version. when he gets upset about something (usually not something big) he has a screaming crying fit. the thing is, the crying is forced (not the old aligator tears of the two year old tantrum) and i have the feeling he is just expressing his upset with vigor – not vigorously upset. if that distinction makes any sense. i will admit that it has been a very challenging thing for me to hang through. there are a few reasons for this:
i don’t handle prolonged loud noises well at all (i was always the first one out of the dorm when the fire alarm got triggered).
being that we are living with my mom it upsets me that it is irritating her.
i know he could (emotionally speaking?) be quiet but he is choosing to scream and cry instead. literally scream.
it upsets me that things are not going “my” way.
i feel confused and frustrated that he is tantruming like he used to when he was younger.
i have been flailing around in how i respond to these tantrums as my frustration with them builds. sometimes i would hold him and try to make him feel loved. other times i would try actively to distract him. of course there were several times when i got so well triggered i went ahead and yelled at him, “stop screaming!” (this is SO effective.) i had no theory behind my reactions and nothing i was doing seemed to be helping him or me. frustration continued to mount.
i mentioned my struggle in this particular area of parenting to a friend of mine in an email the other day and asked for her advice on it. in her reply she made the distinction between how she handles things when she is “centered” and when she is “not centered.” i read her reply and it made sense but it wasn’t until a few hours later when bean launched into the day’s first scream fest that i suddenly got the importance of her words.
what i want to do is fix the situation so that bean is not so upset so that he is not screaming so that i will not be upset by the screaming. but, i am so so so far from getting there. i am utterly lost. in the face of being so lost the best thing to do is the same answer that is always given in response to any issue that arises in relationship – i can do my work.
in the moment of being a mama to a screaming, crying, carrying on like all get out, almost four year old, spirited, sensitive, boy, what i can do is try to silence all the voices in my head that are freaking out about his freak out. i can not let his upset get me so upset. i can remain truly, seriously, honestly, calm and balanced while he spins out of control.
because i am some one who really likes details when it comes to the nitty gritty of how to parent i will tell you exactly how this went. when bean started his tantrum i was standing about two feet away from him. i walked to him, wrapped my arms around his waist from behind, and pulled him into my lap on a bench that was right there. i held him silently while i had a chat with the voices in my head.
ok, the bean is screaming and we are going to see if we can stay calm.
i don’t feel calm.
you feel worried that this tantrum is somehow not ok?
what if you decided that it is ok?
maybe. but, i know it is really bothering my mom.
well, it might be bothering your mom but that is her problem not yours. your only problem right now is you.
ok fine, i don’t like how he is screaming. the noise is upsetting me!
if the loudness is bothering you too much we can find a way to walk away from him and get some space without removing our love.
ok. well it feels better knowing that. but, i am also annoyed because i want to be getting us ready to go outside now. because that is what we are doing next. soon it is lunch time and i don’t want to miss our time outside because of this.
ok, well you don’t have to miss outside time. going outside if part of the rhythm and it is ok, probably even comforting, for the bean to know the rhythm carries on. so you can calmly give voice to that or you can just do it. you can start to get the pea ready and then perhaps bean will be calm enough to get ready.
ok, this feels much better. i feel much better. i am not as upset. but wait! he is still screaming and upset. maybe i am failing as a parent because i have not managed to make him feel better. maybe i should sit here and try to convince him to calm down for his good.
maybe. we don’t know that for sure. but we are not going to get upset again because that might be better. you want to try to stick with the rhythm and see how that goes. you will have many chances to try handling this different ways. right now try the way you want to try.
ok. ok that might be ok. i feel removed from his screaming. i am not freaking out about it. oh, there is my mom again. i bet she is really annoyed that he is still screaming and crying.
well, that is her thing.
right. nice. *
at this point i took a break from talking to myself and took action. i gently transfered the bean to the bench we were on and i told him very quietly that i was going to put pea’s shoes on so we could get ready to go outside. i told him i would then find his shoes so he could also come outside. i walked away from him and he continued to be upset but he didn’t get more upset. i got pea ready and then i walked past bean on my way to finding his shoes. he quieted immediately when i passed him and he said, “i want to go outside too.”
i said, “yes, we are all going. i am getting your shoes.” i grabbed his shoes and helped him put them on and he remind very quiet. we stood up and he held my hand as we walked to meet the pea at the door. when we got outside he let go of my hand and within a few steps he was smiling and skipping around. i caught up with him and gave him a hug and told him i loved him and then we all went to the sandbox area and played.
i am not saying i have this all figured out or anything. i am not saying this is the final solution of how i want to handle his emotional tantrum moments. it is surely a work in progress. but this experience, this ability to not get sucked in, to talk down my own anger, to handle my self better – it felt like a huge step in the direction that is right for us.
it turns out that i as much as i want him to pipe down i don’t need him to. i need me to.
*note: as i read this over before publishing it occurred to me that a lot of what happened during the internal conversation was a shifting of feeling inside me. tension releasing in my body as i expressed my upset and found ways to answer to it. a lightness taking over in place of the dark anger that was first arising. a feeling of being detached in a freeing way – instead of being sucked into the turmoil which made me react in ways i was not happy with (like the yelling). i am keeping the conversation above strictly verbal but i wanted to add the note here about the emotional and physical components that were also taking place incase it wasn’t clear enough from the dialog.