The problems I experience with my kids are not behavioral, or sibling rivalry, or picky eating, or sleep issues, or any of the myriad of problems having children brings a person.
No kids? Consider this my contribution to your birth control plan.
I’m talking about emotional problems of the kind that which cannot be healed, fixed, or eliminated. The kind that must be dealt with. They must be cordoned off from the rest of a generally happy kid’s life, and they must be tended, so as not to be blown out of proportion later on in life, to resurface exponentially worse than when you were a child. Feel free to flash back to that one night you were four glasses of wine in, crying at your kitchen table to your girlfriends about how your mom never came to any of your basketball games that one year you played in junior high.
Kids get angry. They get sad. They cry, lash out, hit, bite, or scream. Sometimes they do all of these things at the same time. It can be alarming. My own strategy with dealing with temper tantrums is to steel my own emotions with the cool of a seasoned double agent, trained and hardened in the field. I show no alarm or concern, and with a steady voice, I say:
“I hear and understand what you are saying. You are angry because I ate the last of your chocolate bunny from Easter.* I am sorry that I did that. Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?”
Depending on how they feel, this could go on for hours.
My parents were children when they had me. They did a great job raising my siblings and I, and I have no complaints with my upbringing at all. In fact, it’s kind of not fair how good I had it as a kid. But when I had a tantrum, I was sent to my room, or told to be quiet, or that it was too bad, or on rare occasions, I was spanked or even slapped. Gasp. There was none of this “tell me how you feel” nonsense. It was go to your room you don’t know how easy you have it stop bawling before I give you something real to cry about. And I did, and I got over it, every time. I trusted my parents to know what was best for me, and I listened, and we got along just fine.
I have no illusions about how different things are these days from when I was a kid. The pressures that come from TV, online, school, friends and over-involvement in extracurricular activities is enough to make even the most even-keeled kid start whacking his head against the wall. But I remember how it felt to be a kid, all happy go lucky and no responsibilities mixed with frustration and angst and fear and uncertainty. It is tough.
There is no reason to believe that my kids feel any differently than I did when I was their age. I see myself in them, relive my own childhood through their eyes. What I need to be careful about is putting what I know now, that working through your feelings is important, on them. Asking them to tell me their feelings might be well-advised, but what happens when their feelings are so confusing that they can’t even articulate them? When they don’t even know how they are feeling?
I’ll tell you what happens. More frustration, more confusion, more tears. It happens in my house, more often than any of us like. We are giving them the opportunity to express themselves, unlike we did as kids, but it results in frustration because they have these feelings without knowing what they are or where they come from, much less what to do with them. Resolutions are hard to come by when the person in charge is winging it.
So what is a parent to do? I don’t know. Something between talking to your kids about their feelings, and telling them to take the tantrum somewhere else. I can help my kids sort through their feelings, but I have to remember that sometimes kids just need to be told what to do, and being sent to their rooms might be what they need to get over it. They can deal with their feelings later, when they can better articulate them.
Like therapy, in which I am considering investing. Might as well start now.
*True. I did.