The first time Ruby’s brother had a tantrum, she looked aghast and covered her ears. ‘Mum,’ she shouted, I DON’T LIKE THAT NOISE. STOP IT! STOP IT!’
I knew exactly how she felt.
When a toddler or baby cries, there’s something in you that starts flashing. High alert, sirens wailing – a burst of panic that spreads across your body. Half of you wants to run away and the other half wants to join in the screaming. Neither works.
Here’s what (sometimes) does. Instead of climbing under the table, you take a deep breath. You disengage with the heat of the tantrum, refusing to give it fuel. You pray. And then, when things have calmed a bit, you ask questions and listen. You acknowledge the strength of their feelings but you don’t let them lead you. And eventually, instead of absorbing their stress, they catch your calm.
(This is the theory. The practice is – well, work in progress…)
It seems to me that our emotions are a bit like screaming toddlers. When they kick off, it’s tempting to drop everything and panic. To run from them, or to let them rule. Neither of these work; and like a child who’s ignored or is constantly told that they’re ‘bad’, they act up accordingly. Sadly, I haven’t solved the problem of toddler meltdowns; but I’ve plenty of experience with feelings that ‘throw their toys out of the pram’. So how do we respond to our own emotions when they spit the dummy? Perhaps we can apply the same principles…
Thanks to all those wise friends who have shared these tips on parenting, (please keep ’em coming!)
Things to remember when parenting your emotions:
- You’re the grown up. They are not the boss of you.
- Be flexible. Sometimes a meltdown means you need to cut short that shopping trip. Cut yourself some slack. The emails or chores that can be done another day.
- Listen carefully to what they’re saying. Take seriously the depth of their feeling, but not necessarily the justification for it.
- Reassure them with the truth: your parent is here, they love you, and they promise everything will be ok.
- Recognise warning signs – and try to head them off early.
- Check the basics: are they tired/hungry/in pain? Now, ask yourself the same questions…
- Pause before responding. When a toddler is having a meltdown, it’s not the time to reason with them or to get them to take action. Similarly, don’t try and fix the world (or the situation) when you’re angry or anxious or despairing. Remember that this will pass – and when you’re calmer, things may well look different.
- Try not to get angry. Your child isn’t shouting to disrupt your plans, but because something feels wrong. In the same way, don’t beat yourself up for having emotions. You’re human! And emotions are God-given. Take them and your frustrations to God.
- In time, when things have calmed down, you can figure out what has triggered this meltdown. There will be things you can learn from and/or change. Ask wise friends for advice (and prayer).
- Have time out. Some toys or a soothing song. For you, a verse of Scripture, a piece of music, a phone call to a friend. (The Psalms are always a great model for managing wayward feelings!)
When my anxious inner thoughts become overwhelming, your comfort encourages me, (Psalm 94:19)