Respect the Tantrum

My friend Kate came to visit.  Yes, another Kate.  She’s actually one of the first Kates I ever met.  One of the ones who made me want to be a Kate instead of a Katie.  That’s how cool she is.  She lives in Africa, so she came home at Christmas-time, and was here again for six weeks and we got 3 whole days as a visit!  E. has seen her only 3 times since she was born, with this being by far the longest time spent together.  We went to the playground, we used our swingset, we went to “Whole Toods” and “Teenix Tottee”  (Phoenix Coffee).  We watched movies and drank tea together.  E. was over the moon.  So was I, to be with one of my closest friends.

In an incident of spectacularly bad timing, about 5 minutes before Kate was supposed to leave, E. got Very Upset about something or other and started to have a temper tantrum.  I don’t really remember what she was originally crying about, but a couple of minutes in, I said, “Okay, honey, Miss Kate has to leave.  It would be better if you could be in charge of your body and calm down so you can say bye to her.”

Then things went from bad to worse.  She looked at Kate and screamed twice as loud.  Real tears began to fall.  She literally could not stop crying and I could tell that her emotions had gotten much too big for her to even begin to process, let alone control.  So I picked her up and said, “Your feelings are too big for you right now.  I am going to hold you and keep your body safe until you are ready to be in charge of it again.”  She alternately thrashed and clung to me for about 4 or 5 minutes which seemed like hours.  I asked her, “are you sad because Kate’s leaving?”  “Uh—-uh-huh!”  Me too!  Kate said, “Me too.”  We all started crying.  But she had to go.  So as all of us cried, she got in the car and began to back down the driveway.  The whole time, E. was saying (and signing), “Love you!  love you.  love you.  love you.  love you,”  so that Kate would know.  As her car pulled away, E. sighed a huge sigh, looked at me and said, “She gone!  I not say love you.  I talk her on the computer.  I sad.  I want yogurt!”

Would it have been better and easier if E. had sweetly kissed her on the cheek and smiled and said “check you later!?”  Of course.  But I do not regret allowing her space to feel what she was feeling.

I think too many times we as a culture want to act in appropriate ways and so we don’t acknowledge our feelings.  Emotions are not right or wrong.  They are what they are.  They certainly can be based on false thoughts or beliefs and those must be confronted and fought with everything we can muster, but to stuff our feelings down without challenging the lies underneath them can have disastrous consequences for our selves and our relationships.

A very wise friend (okay, it was Kate.  I really do have other friends, but this post is apparently dedicated to her) said once that emotions are like a very persistent door-to-door salesman.  They knock and when you open the door they approach you with whatever they bring.  If it is something you don’t want, you have a choice to make. You can slam the door in their face.  If you do this, they will come back over and over again at the worst times, until you don’t have the energy to turn them away anymore.

The other option is to say, “Alright, you can come in and sit on my couch.  You can talk to me about your Acme brand windows that I don’t want.  But I have things to do.  I have to make dinner and pack for a trip.  I also have to update my blog.  I will not allow you to keep me from doing the thing that lies next to me undone.”

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One thought on “Respect the Tantrum

  1. Your closing thought conjures images of J. F. Nash’s disposition towards his demons at the end of A Beautiful Mind. That’s a healthy place to be.

    Also, allowing E. to feel her feelings until the moment passes will pay her (and us) dividends later. I can think of innumerable parents that would have squashed her in that moment, with the sum side effect of squashing her ability to deal with those emotions in the future.

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