“Bad”is already a buzzword around here.
But after hearing it from a desperate mommy trying to reign in a tantrum recently, I started thinking more personally about why it just might be ineffective.
When I feel frustration, when emotions are high, the fastest way to take them from “high” to “unmanageable and overwhelming” is to embarrass me. My husband has, on occasion and unintentionally, drawn attention to a moment of intense stress, and in that instant, it becomes all I can do to keep from crying.
I am a grown woman, but the mixture of shame and stress, or shame and confusion, or shame and pretty much any difficult emotion is STILL a recipe for disaster.
I think it often works the same way for our little ones.
For whatever reason it may be, their stress is high. They don’t want the options presented. They are overwhelmed by their environment. They’re uncomfortable. Whatever it is, they’ve just about lost it.
They’re whining, quickly escalating to a flailing cry, and it’s the very last thing we need right then, so we snap, “STOP IT! You’re being bad!”
And that whine hits fever-pitch and they’re on the ground losing it completely.
Now, here’s where it gets crazy.
If we don’t stop….if we keep on pushing, pulling, and yelling, it’s probably over. The meltdown will be complete. Whatever plans we had for the day are over, and the best we can hope for is miserable.
But if we can stop….if we can stop, and realize that this appeal to our toddler’s desire to be “good” isn’t going anywhere, we might just save the day.
Because honestly, that appeal to “be good” is a dead end for all of us. When my emotions have become too big for my coping skills, it’s not because I stopped wanting to be a good person. It’s not because I stopped caring whether you love, like, or approve of me.
It’s because it’s too big. It’s because it hurts too much. I’m too confused. I can’t see clearly.
And the last thing on earth that would ever bring me back is shame.
What I need is….
A deep breath.
A “What’s wrong, honey?” and patience.
A quiet space to recollect.
A chance to cry, release the stress, and feel the relief that comes after.
I suspect our children need the same.
Allow me to propose that there is always a reason for a toddler’s meltdown. (For anyone’s meltdown, really.) It may not be “logical,” and it may not be “appropriate”. But there is always a reason.
Maybe the store is too big and he’s feeling insecure.
Maybe the shoes are pinching.
Maybe the wipes are too cold.
Maybe she’s lonely.
Maybe your job stress is tangible.
Maybe he’s hungry, tired, over-stimulated.
And if we take the moment to find that out, we just might be able to fix it, and save the plans.
But even if we can’t fix it, we can give our kids the chance to fully feel their emotions, ride the tide all the way to the end, and find out it’s okay. Release and relieve. Learn a real coping skill. (I know I need more of this!)
Shame will stop that short, and probably escalate the feelings.
Let’s take the moment, take the deep breath, skip the “bad” and ride out the emotional tide till we all just see things a little more clearly.