It’s hot here in North Carolina and my 4 year old has been wearing his flannel pajamas. It was timely to get some summer pajamas on sale. He picked out a short and t-shirt set with sharks on it. It was one of the bright spots in his day; there was a lot going on for him emotionally – may be due to lack of sleep or a build up of stress. Little things were setting him off into tears.
I share a lot of assistance to mamas about yelling, anger, and generally “losing it” because I speak from experience. Tears and tantrums are a hot button for me and I have to be intentional to respond calmly. I’m a mama who likes to feel I’m in control of things – including my children’s emotions. Intellectually I understand that children are not mature emotionally and that they express their stress through tears.
In the past few weeks I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Naomi Aldort’s book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. She has a wonderful technique she calls S.A.L.V.E. that help a parent like myself respond effectively to my emotional child.
At bedtime my little guy was psyched to get into his new summer jammies. After his bath he dried off and we pulled up the shorts – but they fell down to his ankles as soon as I let them go around his waist. Uh – Oh. I peeked at the size and instead of a “4” I see “7.” Not a good thing with a little guy on the edge.
I explained to him that we had gotten the wrong size, knowing that this would send him into tears and upset. I tried to share with him that we would exchange the clothes the next day – but you know how ridiculous that sounds to a 4 year old! So, I practiced Naomi’s S.A.L.V.E. instead as I had all day – it is amazing and wonderful.
S – Separate yourself from your child’s behavior and emotions with a Silent Self-talk.
My mind immediately was wanting to put words in my mouth and instead of saying the words, I thought them, allowed them and then recognized them as unhelpful and threw them out as rubbish. I was thinking, “oh no, here we go again. He’s being so unreasonable. How am I going to get him to just move on? I’m so done today.”
A – Attention on your child. When you have silently investigated the conversation inside your head, shift your attention from yourself and your inner monologue to your child.
I looked at my little boy who was so crushed. I held him while he cried.
L – Listen to what your child is saying or to what his actions may be indicating; then listen some more.
We looked at one another and he said, “I want to wear my new jammies!” He said this a few times and I nodded my head and stayed close.
V – Validate your child’s feelings and the needs he expresses without dramatizing and without adding your own perception.
“You wanted to wear your new summer jammies and mommy got the wrong size and now you can’t wear them tonight.” I said this same thing several times in different ways, letting him know that I understood. He cried harder when he realized I understood and, in a way, giving him permission to be upset. But the tears began to subside and within just a few minutes he was calm.
E – Empower your child to resolve his own upset by getting out of his way and trusting him.
In this situation, it was best to pull out a t-shirt and some light pants as a replacement for the night. He was calm while he got dressed and said, “mom, can we get the new jammies afterschool tomorrow?” “Yep, I think that will work, buddy.”
The entire jammie scene was about 3-5 minutes. In the past, it may have been a lot worse as I may have tried to reason with him and tell him that I can’t get the jammies right this minute, blah, blah, blah. He didn’t want reason; he just wanted to be allowed to be disappointed and upset that he couldn’t wear them tonight. That’s life and it’s okay to have strong feelings – especially when we have the unconditional love of a parent to be there to support us through it.