Camryn is playing with stickers and is noticeably disappointed when one rips. She stares at it for a few seconds and then begins to cry. Not any ordinary cry, but a loud wailing cry. I watch her for a minute or two and decide to pick her up and hug her. Her strong response tells me that she is not just crying - she is releasing.
She sits on my lap and cries loud and hard. I don't speak - I just rub her back as she lets it out. Skylar walks over and rubs her foot, a kind gesture from a 2-year-old.
I don't think Camryn is crying because of the ripped sticker - the sticker just pushed her over the edge. She may have had a tough day at school or maybe she didn't sleep great. Maybe she asked for something earlier in the day and nobody heard her or maybe she lost her favorite book.
I have days where one thing after the next goes wrong and the simple act of tripping over a carpet throws me into a tailspin. I know how emotional build up can result in an out of proportion response.
There are so many emotional experiences in the course of a day. Sometimes we work through them and sometimes we just swallow them. Sometimes we need to release them, and in Camryn's case the ripped sticker was an opportunity to let it all go.
I don't always have the patience to respond to my daughter in this way. At times I am "full" with my own stuff and other times I just need to get her to school or finish checking out at the store.
But right now I have the choice to stop what I am doing and comfort her. I know that it feels good to release emotion when someone is holding you. And I know it feels great to be understood.
Staying present for this type of outburst can be challenging. It is not easy to hear her sob. My discomfort urges me to ignore her behavior or tell her to stop.
But those big cries are begging for attention. And if the crying isn't acknowledged, a tantrum might not be far behind. In either situation she is just asking for validation. Can you allow me to cry instead of trying to fix it? Can you accept me instead of telling me to be different?
A full 10 minutes passes before Camryn's cries slow down. I quietly say, "Can I do anything to help you?" She shakes her head no and rests on me for awhile longer. Eventually she jumps down and picks up the sticker book. She looks at the ripped one with a smile and asks, "Could I have a piece a tape? I gotta get back to fixing this thing."
Cathy Adams is a certified parenting coach, yoga instructor and mother to three girls.
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