“Go away! I hate you!”
Never a nice thing to hear.
Especially screamed. Loudly. In a public place.
Sometimes I think my life can be split into before Hand in Hand Parenting, and after. Like driving to new locations using an unwieldy paper map and then discovering satellite navigation.
Before I learnt some good information from Hand in Hand Parenting my go-to responses might have been to ignore the “poor” behaviour or maybe praise the “good” behaviour of another child. I might have used a deliberately low, stern voice, counted to 3 or demanded an apology.
On a stressed day, conscious of what other adults around me might be thinking, it might have sounded more like “How dare you speak to me like that?” or “you need a time out! say sorry!” ending with “Right, we’re leaving!”
Those times were hard for all of us and I didn’t have any directions as to how to get back on the high road.
I came from a “high-expectations”, “routines and consistency”, “positive praise” route. My anger at what I saw as “disobedience”, “defiance” and “manipulation” took me down unwanted, unintended but, at times, unavoidably harsh and authoritarian col-de-sacs.
Many Hand in Hand parents come from the other side of the town. The giving, sometimes more permissive, more child-led avenue. Which can, unfortunately, end up being just as confusing, waylaid and ultimately exhausting.
And both sets of directions kind of make sense.
But neither of them really consider what is going on under the tricky behaviour. The first is preoccupied with the behaviour itself. The second might be seen as trying to understand the behaviour, but often assumes the child knows what is wrong and that kindness and logic will prevail.
However, when we know what’s going on in a child’s brain when they are overwhelmed with emotions, we’re better equipped to really help the child. It’s like taking the foot off the gas and steering off-track behaviour back on course.
I now know my child isn’t thinking well, and is signally me, very smartly, to this fact.
“I hate you” could be translated into “Help me! I feel rubbish, I don’t know what to do. My brain isn’t working and I’m doing stupid stuff”. At this stage my child probably couldn’t tell me with words what exactly the matter is.
The beauty is we don’t need to know exactly what’s bothering our children to help them. I know that my child is disconnected, feeling unsafe, unable to think well. As long as I’m thinking well enough, I might be able to think creatively to help them to unload those feelings, shift us to a more connected place, feel better and re-engage their brain so they can think well again for themselves.
My son has shouted this at me more than once. Usually in the park, after school.
Being away from me, with a new teacher, is always a trigger for him.
His anxiety builds.
The tension of holding it together all day, his feelings of not quite understanding what’s going, of not being able to keep up with his peers, with the speed of the school day, fuels a volcano, ready to erupt.
When he meets me in the school playground there’s an energy, an urgency. A lack of eye contact or warmth. He’s desperate to run, climb, be active. So, at the park there’s usually something that he can hook his uncomfortable feelings on, usually me.
It might be that I don’t have the right snack. Not enough water. I might want to go home too soon. I might not want him to roll in the mud in his school uniform. So, I get blasted. “Rah! I hate you”.
If I’m feeling resourced I can scoop up the insult and fling back some play.
I might invite him to fly at me, spin him round till his feet are off the ground and land him back down again. I might cry “well, I love you, and I need to kiss you!” and start to chase him to try and land a kiss on his tummy. I might pretend the insult has punched me in the stomach, stagger towards him and crumple onto him in dramatic style.
I’m looking for a giggle to pop out, or a smile, it usually vanishes straightaway and needs another angry charge from him, but if there was a glimpse of a smile, I’ll follow that again, letting him use his physical strength to release some of the tension, allowing the giggle to grow.
I might need to hold a limit “they’re all the snacks I have. I have others at home”
I’ll need to catch any flailing limbs so I won’t be hurt, and I’ll know he needs to fight for himself with me, because he can’t do it in the classroom.
I try to be flattered that he’s bringing it to me. Knowing that if I don’t add to his hurt and shame this is a perfect way for him to get it out, and feel connected to me again.
And I try to ignore my feelings of “What will all the other parents think!” Those feelings usually change to “Look what I did!” when my son comes for a cuddle, laughs delightedly, plays with me and his brother well, and comes away from the park without a fight. Holding my hand and chatting about his day.
I feel like a superhero.
Understanding what was going on when my son was tantrumming was a game-changer for us. Fellow Hand in Hand Instructor Tom Anderson and I are running 3 week Understanding Tears and Tantrums classes that start on Monday 19th April (8pm GMT) and Friday 23rd April (10am GMT) We’ll be talking about the science behind our children’s emotional outbursts, we’ll teach tools to use immediately, we’ll answer questions and provide time to explore how it is for us when our children tantrum and cry. Click here for more information.