I am momentarily deaf. My toddler is screaming so loudly that I’m afraid the neighbours will come out to check on us. I look around to be sure that there aren’t in fact people peering at us over the fence, wondering if something is horribly wrong.
It isn’t. She’s not hurt. There’s nothing physically wrong. Oh but she’s having some big feelings. She wants something her older sister has and when you’re two years old it is very hard to wait your turn. Moments earlier I was standing holding her, comforting and empathising. Deciding to sit with her appears to have been the wrong move. My ears are ringing as she screams at me to stand up while also trying to hit me, the anger inside her escaping. I know that I need to stay calm.
I want her to calm down. Right now I would like to make her stop! I could make her sister give her what she wanted, that would stop it. I could give her ‘time out’ in her room, that might eventually stop it. But I won’t do these things.
When she is grown I want her to feel capable of dealing with disappointments. I want her to know her feelings are always ok and there’s no need to squash them down or make them go away. Those skills don’t develop without practice. What she needs right now is my help. I need to help her practice regulating her emotions.
I know exactly how to do that in theory, but the reality, well that can be hard can’t it? You have all these great ideas, you’ve read so much about peaceful parenting, it all makes so much sense, but when it comes to putting it in to practice… it feels hit and miss. Sometimes you are cool, calm, and collected and you see how beautifully it works out when you are able to stay calm. Other times you just can’t find your patience! Or you lose it half way through when the crying goes on and on and on.
I feel my patience wearing thin on this day. It’s been 25 minutes and she’s still crying and yelling just as much. I’m acknowledging her needs, ‘it’s so hard to wait, you really wish it was your turn now’. I’m empathising, ‘I can hear that you’re very angry and upset’. I’m blocking any hits and protecting my personal boundaries, ‘I won’t let you hurt me’. I’m physically comforting her. But nothing seems to be working.
After 30 minutes she falls asleep in my arms, which is just as well as her baby sister is starting to get grumpy and wanting me to pick her up too. I go to put her in bed…and she wakes. The crying starts again. I pick her up in a huff. This is the moment things could go one of two ways. I can resume what I was doing before, or I can let my frustration get the better of me. Even as an adult it’s hard to deal with our frustration and anger, especially when we’re expending all of our mental energy helping someone else deal with their feelings. What I really need is someone to empathise with me! To acknowledge my feelings!
So that’s what I do. I be that person for myself. Instead of reacting to my frustration without thought, I acknowledge it. Yeah, that’s right, I talk to myself, in my mind.
‘This is really frustrating’
‘This isn’t going how I expected. I feel frustrated when things don’t go to plan. I thought she would stay asleep’
I’m holding both my 2-year-old and 7-month-old now. Both of them are crying.
‘This feels really hard’
Somehow, just being mindful of these feelings takes the power out of them. They don’t suddenly burst from me without warning. I can acknowledge them without acting on them. I recognise that I feel frustrated and that this situation is hard for me, I know that I need to calm myself. Instead of automatically reacting, simply acknowledging how I feel helps me slow things down and I’m more likely to be able to stay calm.
My 7-year-old comes into the bedroom where we are sitting and I am cuddling my two youngest. She asks if I need some help and offers to play with her baby sister while I hold my 2-year-old. She comments ‘She is really having a hard day today isn’t she Mum? Poor girl. It’s ok to cry‘ and I am reminded of the benefits of being mindful of my emotions and reactions. When I can stay calm, I can show them empathy and understanding. They, in turn, grow up to pass on that gift to others.
Eventually the crying stops, and her body relaxes. She gets up and wanders off to do some drawing with her sisters. That was hard, but it was worth it. She knows her feelings are important to me and that I will always be here to help her. And I feel good that I was able to remain patient.
Today I needed to stay calm, and I did.