Friday, January 8, 2016

4 Things to do when you feel like Screaming

When I was a young mom, we lived in an apartment building full of other newlyweds and new parents.  The apartments had no air conditioning so in the summer we lived with our windows open and inadvertently heard goings-on in other apartments.  One night we woke to the child in the apartment below us screaming for all he was worth.  Something had definitely made him mad!  I think he didn’t want to go back to sleeping in his own bed.  We heard the parents trying to talk to the child, their voices raising incrementally as they tried to be heard over their screaming progeny but also as their frustration mounted.  Finally, the dad hollered, “WHO TAUGHT YOU TO SCREAM LIKE THAT?!”
I loved it.  I love it now and I loved it then.  Who indeed but the child’s own parents?

Not that I’m perfect.  Not that I haven’t ever screamed at my children.  I have.  So loudly that my raw throat reminded me of the event even the next day.  However. . . I have always regretted it.  Every. Single. Time.  It might have even prompted a much-needed change in their behavior.  Even then I have regretted it and felt that I did wrong.  I felt that I had been inappropriate and needed to apologize!  It’s wrong to yell at people.  How even more wrong to yell at your own off-spring who look to you for a determination of their own worth?  Oh people, let’s not get that wrong.  How can we, who know in this place rooted deep inside our hearts, that these are the most incredible people God ever gave to the Earth, how can we make them feel like they are nothing?  The world may tell them that, but, oh no, let it not ever be us.

Still, there are times, oh yes, there are times, when those incredible souls make us see red.  What can we do instead of teach them to scream?

1)      Remember.  I know that this technically can’t work for you until after you’ve screamed at a child at least once, but if you are lucky enough to have avoided this in the past, perhaps you can vicariously remember how awful you will feel after you yell.  I have yelled.  I know how terrific it feels in the moment.  I am so right and they are so wrong and just this once, they are going to listen AND they are going to quake so hard in their little boots that they will NEVER do it again.  Yep.  Makes sense when you are mad, but while we are all rational, it makes ya’ll want to turn me in to child services.  In my right mind, why would I ever want to make a child afraid of me?  That’s not my job.  My job is to build trust with that little one.  So, when I’m not in my right mind, I have programmed a little voice to start repeating frantically behind my red vision, “You’ll regret it later!  You’ll regret it later!  Choose a different way!  Choose a different way!”

2)      Comfort yourself.  I once heard a story of a woman who noticed a mother in a grocery store.  The mother’s toddler was having an enormous tantrum, kicking and screaming and drawing attention to herself through the whole store.  Throughout the checkout line the mother continued saying in her kindest voice, “It’s alright, Jenny, I know it’s hard, but we’re almost done.”  The woman followed her to the parking lot to praise her for her kindness with her child.  The mother thanked her but then added, “There’s something you should know.  My name is Jenny.”  Wonderful!  Often, the emotion that sends me into my worst tantrums—and that is really what they are when I have started screaming at my child--is the feeling that I am being ignored or that my needs are being ignored.  We all scream, parent or child, because we feel like we are not being heard!  So.  Be the person who hears you.  Give yourself your own compassion.  I cannot always rely on others being there for me at the exact moment when I need a pep talk, so I’ve practiced giving them to myself.  You can too!

3)      Model how you hope your child will deal with frustration.  I’ve often heard that if you want to rid yourself of an undesirable habit, that you should replace it with a desirable habit.  Since nature abhors a vacuum, you will be 430% more successful than you otherwise would be (give or take).  In any case, if I remember at this moment of supreme frustration, that this is the perfect opportunity to model for my child how I want them to deal with their own supreme frustration, then I have effectively redirected myself.  It’s no longer about NOW but about the future and how blissful and anger-free the future will be if I can model patience and respectful conversation in this moment.

4)      Leave.  Sometimes none of this is enough.  I know that.  Fortunately for me, my experience with #1 is strong enough, now at least, to grab that indignant, self-righteous, you-are-going-to-get-it-this-time woman, run her to her room and lock her there.  She can scream there (into her pillow).  She can cry, and oh, she does!  Eventually she calms enough that I can do #2.  Then I can think about #3.  When I’m ready, and only then! do I come back out of the room.  All children, no matter how young can be left alone for the ten or so minutes this is going to take.  Place the little ones in their crib.  I guarantee they are safer without you than with you for this time.  They will benefit from the sweet woman or man who has remembered herself or himself and comes to lift them back out. 

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