Parents… I KNOW I’m not alone in this. Picture, if you will…
Your kid is acting up. Big time. They have lost their ever-loving mind, and are beyond reason. In the middle of a full-fledged tantrum, your little one hauls off and smacks you across the face. Your eyes fill with tears, you see stars, and then you see RED.
How do you react? Do you yell? Scream? Retaliate? Or are you able to find compassion? Empathy? Understanding?
I’ve done both. I’ve reacted badly, allowing my anger to color my response. Lately, though, I’ve been working very hard on reacting with love.
What makes a child freak out like that? What brings on that level of tantrum in the first place? I believe that it’s one of three things. Hunger, sleep deprivation, or fear. I don’t mean that kids don’t get angry, frustrated, or just plain grumpy, but when things reach a fever pitch, there’s usually one of the primary drivers behind it – hunger, lack of sleep or fear. Reacting with anger or frustration only exacerbates the problem. So, I’m trying to react with love, understanding and compassion.
I’m not saying that it’s OK for my kid to hit me. Absolutely not. But if I can reach her through the incoherent haze of fury, and let her know that she’s safe, she’s loved, she’s being heard… then typically, she will calm down and we can talk about what’s happening. If I react at her level, screaming and yelling, then I’m guaranteed an epic battle, and I’m not guaranteed a win.
So, exactly how does one react with compassion, while seeing red? It isn’t easy. I try to tell myself in the heat of the moment that whatever she is doing, it’s not by her choice. She’s reacting from instinct, and it’s up to me to bring reason into the situation.
I literally repeat to myself, “this isn’t her, this isn’t her…” and what I’m telling myself is that whatever is happening, my daughter isn’t in control. Remembering this really helps me empathize with her – how scared she must be feeling to be so far out of control.
Then it’s usually much easier to react with compassion and love. Sometimes I have to do something really off the wall to get her to snap out of the tantrum. I typically pretend to cry along with her, which she hates. She gets angry that I’m crying, and then I tell her that I’ll stop if she stops.
We both get a moment to compose ourselves, and there’s always a hug. I tell her I love her no matter what, and then we talk about what happened, why she got upset, and how she can react better next time.
Controlling my emotions in the face of her raw emotions is the one of the hardest thing I do these days. But I’ve seen the difference in how she reacts to me when I respond with compassion as opposed to anger, and it’s amazing.