She wants two books, not just one. I tell her that it is late and we have time for one book, but she insists on another. I tell her she needs to pick the book quickly because it is almost time for bed. She doesn’t want to pick just one book. She is frustrated and her voice is getting louder. There is stomping, pleading and then there are tears.
As soon as I hear the cry I know this might take awhile. Most of the time she can handle disappointment, but today is not one of those days. I know that a good night’s sleep will help, but she is unable to understand this. Right now she is having a tantrum.
My initial reaction is to recite every thought in my head—you know we only have time for one book, you must be tired, why are you so upset? After a few minutes I realize she can’t even hear my voice—she is crying too loud.
Then frustration kicks in. I think to myself—you are too old to be crying like this, I need to get back to work, I don’t have time for this, maybe we won’t read books at night anymore. I think threatening thoughts because she seems out of control and it is making me uncomfortable. I want her to stop.
Her cries are loud and my threatening thoughts are about to come out of my mouth. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I know that this tantrum is an emotional release and it is probably not about the book. It is probably about any number of things that happened during the day and the book was the last straw. She is tired, her tools are gone and her emotions are on the surface. I think about earlier in the day when I was frustrated with my computer, cleaning up the kitchen and trying to make lunch. She asked me a simple question and I promptly snapped back—I can’t deal with that right now, can’t you see that I am busy making lunch! I did not cry at the top of my lungs, but I did overreact to something quite simple. I can relate to what she is feeling right now.
I decide to pick her up and carry her to her bedroom. I put her in bed and I sit on the floor. I say to her, you are safe, I am here. I relax and I skim through one of her books. I do not talk to her or look at her, I am just there. I allow her to get whatever she is feeling out of her system and I try to remain a calm presence in the room.
The cries seem to be slowing down, not quite as loud, not quite as frequent. I wait until I hear only sniffling and I look up at her. She is staring at me, not quite sure what just happened to her body. I ask her if she is feeling better and she nods. I ask her if she is ready to read a book now and she quietly says yes.
After the story I put the book down and ask her to tell me about what just happened. What were you feeling and how could I have helped you? We talk about sadness and disappointment and how it feels inside of our body. We talk about how healthy it is to get it out, and we talk about other ways to release it. She says she likes to scribble pictures or roll around on the floor. I tell her that I like to go for a walk or talk to somebody who I love. Her eyes look exhausted but she seems to feel heard and satisfied because she has a slight smile.
As I am leaving she asks me if we can read two books tomorrow night. With a smile I tell her yes and I start to close her door. As I am about to walk away I hear a faint ‘thanks mama.’ It’s amazing what one deep breath can do.
Cathy Cassani Adams is a certified parent coach living in Elmhurst with her husband, Todd, and daughters Jacey, Camryn and Skylar. Visit her Web site, www.intentionalparent.net.