I think as a parent of an intense child it’s all too often I have something negative to report about her behavior and my responses to her negative behavior. But I think it’s also very important to celebrate the small victories too.
After a long day out yesterday of shopping, going out to lunch, and a play date at the park with two of my daughters K (the intense 5 year old) and E (the 4 year old), inevitably we usually have unpredictable behavior the next day. Well, I should say it is predictable – predictably negative in some fashion. It’s just part of the ebb and flow of my child. Too much activity usually results in fallout the next day.
This morning, when K was dressing for school, she decided she wanted a balloon that E was holding, and when she didn’t get it, K pinched E on the arm. That’s not typical of K. She’s usually doesn’t act out with her hands, she usually just whines, wails, or yells at her sister.
Yes, I did raise my voice, but I did not yell. After some questioning, I found out the reason she pinched her sister. Then I approached K to address the issue, she thought she was going to get punished for that so she cowered away from me (I rarely spank, but I’d be lying if I said I never did in moments of weakness) and kept saying through her tears “don’t spank me, don’t spank me”. I can’t say I’m proud of the fact that this was the first thing she assumed I was going to do. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t like to spank. For my sensitive daughter, she carries with her extreme negative associations and shame that spanking elicits. Guilt, fear and shame are not legacies I want my children to have. That doesn’t help her anxiety issues and self esteem one iota. It’s not a tool I like to have in my parenting toolbox.
Having said that, I’m thrilled about what happened next. I did have K apologize to her sister, and after that I did pick up K to talk with her about why she did what she did. She was still afraid that I was going to spank her, and she sobbed in my arms, but as I held her, I softly told her I wasn’t going to. I also told her it was really okay to feel angry, but it’s not okay to hurt someone else because of the anger. After I repeated that twice, she quickly popped up, jumped out of my arms, ran out of the room and came back with a book I bought for us, called Mad Isn’t Bad: A Child’s Book About Anger by Michaelene Mundy. I read this book to her before, and even though she still has a ways to go to learn emotional self-regulation, it shows me she is retaining some of the things I’m trying to teach her.
The book lets her (and me) know that feeling angry is normal and okay, but it’s how we act upon our anger that makes all the difference in the world and it teaches us what we can do to safely express our anger (with our words, not our actions). Just a word of warning: it does make reference to God, so this might not be a book that would appeal to everyone (though it doesn’t make the reference to God until much later in the book). But if you are okay with references to God, this is a very suitable book for your family.
I must say I’m very pleased with how things turned out today. In all of my readings and research about emotional self-regulation, one of the best techniques is for the parent to model self-control when emotions run high. I couldn’t believe I acted calmly and rationally, and how good it left me feeling to finally get it right for a change and how it helped her get regain control over her own emotions.
I am also proud of my daughter, even though she slipped and had that hurtful outburst, she was able to help me use it as a teachable moment. I didn’t think of the book at first, and usually I usually wait a few hours after an outburst to learn from the event (because often times there is no learning that occurs when emotions run amok). But obviously she was open to being reminded of how to deal with her angry feelings.
I think it’s important to see and celebrate the small victories being made, in our children and in ourselves. It takes time and practice for some of our intense kids to get the messages we try to give them. It also takes time and practice for we as parents to model what we want to see in them. Any success we have in the areas we struggle in the most should be celebrated. We certainly give enough attention to ourselves when we fail to model healthy emotional responses (guilt, anger at ourselves, depression because we’ve failed again). But do we give enough attention to when we do things right? I don’t think so. I think we don’t pay it much attention, and the next time (or ten) things go wrong, we’ve forgotten that we have done anything right. I think we all too often beat ourselves up for failing to model healthy emotional responses. But that could all be in the past. We always have more chances to get it right, don’t we?
When was the last time you know you modeled a healthy emotional response for your intense kids and how did it make you feel? Wouldn’t it feel that great to have that all the time? Let’s try to keep these successes in mind as we parent our challenging children. I know I am going to try. I like feeling good and I want to keep this good feeling going.
I’m doing a happy dance inside as I write this post. I know I might have more meltdowns today (she has 2 schools today and another park date), but I’m thrilled to know I’ve done it right this time.