I remember what it felt like at her age to experience such enormous, strong emotions. Being a “spirited” child, I experienced all of my emotions intensely, including my anger.
Back when I was growing up, when I lost my temper and started to get destructive, I was sent to my room (which was actually pretty progressive for that day and age – a lot of my friends got spanked – or worse). The memories are so strong that even as I write this, I can transport myself back to those moments, when the door was firmly shut behind me (okay, slammed) and I was completely alone. Once in a while, I could calm myself down without further ado. But most of the time, my emotions entirely swallowed my reason and I lost control.
I remember the rage I felt, that could only be adequately expressed by throwing things, ripping the sheets off my bed, and kicking my furniture. It was a scary, violent feeling that I both hated and feared. And when the tempest of emotion had subsided and I surveyed the wreckage, I was terribly ashamed.
These days, when Katy’s emotions overcome her reason and impulse control, she reacts pretty much the same way. She is one little apple that fell mightily close to this tree! So, on some level, I get what she’s going through. You’d think that would make it easy to empathize. Surprisingly, it doesn’t.
It’s all too easy to view things from my adult perspective – from the dinner I should have started 10 minutes ago, to the baby who’s probably getting into mischief while I’m tied up, to the extra work it’s going to take to put the room back to rights once Katy’s calm.
Mind you, I never mention any of this to her, as I offer her my calm presence. So I kind of figured it didn’t really matter. But just the other day, I discovered how wrong I was.
Katy’s feelings had been hurt by a friend, and she’d gotten extremely upset. I intervened, brought her into our playroom, and sat down to “wait it out”. I’d already learned from experience that anything I said only fueled her fire. And touching her was completely out of the question – any kind of touch literally hurts her when she’s that upset. So, as long as she wasn’t destroying property or being unsafe, I usually remained quietly off to the side, waiting for the storm to subside enough for us to reconnect and work through the problem.
I thought I was doing well, staying with her, not yelling at her, or banishing her to a time out or a room by herself. Of course, that didn’t stop me from inwardly rolling my eyes as I thought to myself here we go again.
Then, suddenly, my perspective shifted. I imagined my little-girl self in my own room, dealing with my own strong emotions. I tried to picture what would have helped me to move through them in a positive way. And I realized that it wasn’t a mother sitting cross-legged on the floor, her face hardened in disapproval as she watched me lose my cool.
At that moment, I understood that my thoughts and my energy were coming across loud and clear without me speaking a word. And they weren’t helping. In fact they were probably making things worse.
What would have helped me all those years ago? I wondered. And then I knew. I looked with love at this precious child, and silently sent her my compassion. I’m sorry you’re feeling so hurt, I thought to myself. I know what that feels like. I’m here. I love you.
I didn’t say a word. But within moments, she had calmed down considerably. Enough so that when I held out my arms, she flung herself into them and sobbed out the whole story to me – something she rarely does on those occasions. We were able connect, and she was able to receive comfort and support from me, instead of impatience and annoyance.
I was thunderstruck by the difference. Outwardly, I’d changed nothing. Clearly, it was the power of the internal shift that had changed the dynamic between us. I was reminded again that so much of this unschooling journey takes place within me, when I’m open to new perspectives, when I can release myself from old patterns of thinking and behaving. Difficult sometimes, yes. And yet beautifully simple.