My children are mostly pretty ‘well behaved’. Much of this comes from within themselves and some of it comes from the environment we have created with them. As a family we’ve made a conscious effort to provide a space that is mostly free from emotional stress, overwhelming sensory input and unnecessary negativity – also an environment that is rich with fun, play, beauty, purpose, song, interesting projects and really good food. We’ve put a lot of effort into understanding each other’s needs and being present to them.
But despite our best efforts we can’t be ‘good’ all the time, can we?
I don’t feel good all the time, so I can hardly expect my kids to. I’ve got the advantage of being able to reflect upon my feelings with my thoughts, writing, discussions and creative outlets. I can tell when I’m unwell and most of the time I know what to do to work through it. Children haven’t yet developed those skills for self-expression and problem solving, so much of their ‘unwellness’ comes out in their behaviour.
Most of the time this is easy to work with, because most of the behaviour we find ‘unacceptable’ is about developmental exploration, learning boundaries or a simple need unmet. There are many strategies useful for working through these situations. But sometimes it is more than that. Sometimes behaviour I consider to be ‘unreasonable’ builds up every day, and if I can’t put my finger immediately upon what’s up in their little bodies, particularly when I am out of sorts myself, then it is pretty hard to deal with.
Then I feel like I am constantly nagging and whining at them to stop it. I abhor this behaviour from my children, and hate it when I find myself doing it too. By mid afternoon I am starting to see the little black clouds brewing above my children’s heads and I know when I am in for a big storm. I often start brewing a little black cloud of my own. I tell my kids they have a choice in how they behave, but often forget to remind myself that I have a choice too. When I make the unconscious (ok – sometimes it is conscious!) choice to react to my own built-up emotions, this leads to me feeling very ‘activated’ and stuck in a cycle of reactions, which actually ends up hastening the inevitable big-one meltdown from one child or another – or from myself. At the time I call this ‘behaviour management’, but really it is I who am being managed by the behaviour.
There are many choices I could make in this situation. I could ignore it, laugh with it, transform it. Much of the time, when I remember, and when I am not too overwhelmed by my own little black cloud, I choose to hug it. To be present to it.
I understand that children’s behaviour is telling me about what is going on for them internally. Sometimes my kids get so worked up that their eyes throw me glances that say “please save me from myself!” But I don’t always remember to look for this, or I am too concerned about saving myself from the bother of having to solve yet another problem, or I’m just too tired of it all to remember that they are still only little. Sometimes, when you spend all day, every day, with little children, and you are tired, you can forget how old they are, and you can forget about what their appropriate expectations of behaviour actually are!
When I DO remember then I hug them. Hugs ALWAYS work for me. Hugs have the potential to blow away the little black storm cloud, making a respectful and loving connection with what is human in us, and pulling us both out of the animalistic reactive zone and back into something that activates our relationship and our intelligence. When I can remember to do this I take my kids away somewhere quiet and hug them and watch their bodies relax, feel their breathing deepen and hear their voices drop to soft tones. Even in the middle of a tantrum, even when we are both raging mad.
Especially when we are both raging mad.
Which is when it is hardest to remember to hug rather than react. Being present takes practice.
In this situation I make sure I hug them with their back toward me, so that I am not hurt by flailing hands and feet. Even if they do not seem like they wish to be hugged at the time. Even if they are calling out “Help! Police!” (yes this has happened!) Taking the time to hug and breathe and to be strong for them when they are not feeling strong emotionally always works for me. Tantrums soften into sobs and before you know it you are gently rocking together in a soft squeezy hug, the storm over.
The next few moments are sooo important: they are a gift from Father Time to spend together singing, reading, chatting, reflecting, storytelling, drawing, playing side by side … whatever it takes to help process the experience, re-establish relationship and purpose to their activities. Tantrums are tiring for everyone.
This is what I do when I remember to.
Sometimes I remember but I just don’t want to do it. Sometimes I just want to finish what I am doing and don’t want the bother of having to pick it up again later. But in these situations I have remembered afterwards that it is ALWAYS worth it to take the time for a hug.
Hugs work in the moment, but they don’t solve long-term problems. When you are back in the zone of peaceful acceptance then it is time to look at what is really going on. But that’s a whole other blog post!