For many years, my son’s moods were always at a simmer. When you added early mornings and his ADHD to the mix, the pot could escalate to rapid boil in a flash.
This is the son who once threw an all-out fit when he was asked to stop whining, insisting: “My throat is just scratchy. And dad yelled at me!” Funny, sounded like whining to me.
But things have been a lot better than they used to be since my husband and I learned how to handle our son’s emotional intensity with more – oh, let’s call it — diplomacy.
In other words, we figured out that patience, positivity and humor were much better tools for managing our son – and ourselves – than idle threats and punishments.
I knew we had turned a corner, a couple of years ago, on one particular school morning. My spouse was busily making lunches in the kitchen, and my son was complaining and flailing his body on the couch. My husband didn’t have time for the battle, so he handed it off to me. Deep breath.
Speaking calmly from the 2nd story banister, I reminded my son, “Please ask nicely, ‘may I have something else for lunch?’” He stopped protesting about lunch and launched into a rant about being yelled at.
I was trying to reason with a 9 year old before 7 a.m. What was I thinking?
I changed my approach. I directed him to go back to his room and start the morning over. You would have thought I’d stabbed him with a rusty pocket-knife. I start counting—clearly and firmly—trying to keep the anger out of my voice.
“Five!” I said. He rolls on his back.
“Four!” He flails on the floor.
“Three!” He’s on his side.
“Two!” He scrambles onto the floor and runs to the stairs.
“One!” He is running for his room.
“GOOD JOB!” I say loudly. He threatened to stay in his room all day. I shut his door quietly and disengaged.
Looking back, I would do a few things differently, but all in all — five points for mommy.
A few minutes later my son is sliding down the stairs—yes, literally slithering like a reptile. I wanted to bark, “Get up and walk to the kitchen!” But I knew my response would set the tone for the remainder of our morning. More screaming, crying and whining? Or cereal, milk, vitamins, and off to school with a smile!
He was in one of his moods, and he didn’t know how to handle it. It was up to his Dad and me to teach him how.
Instead of barking, I joked about the lizard slithering into the kitchen, and warned my husband to watch out. My husband joined the ‘fun.’
At that moment, everything shifted.
All it takes to change a family is for one person to change his/her approach to conflict. Don’t get me wrong — it is hard for a parent to ignore “rude” behavior. Once the ‘fight’ is on, our initial instinct may be to “spit back” fire at an insult (real or perceived). But that is never as helpful as holding a basic standard of respect and refusing to engage in the ugliness. Respect breeds respect. Conflict can’t escalate if you don’t take the bait.
Looking back on my actions that morning, as I held my tongue, counted smoothly (albeit loud enough to cover the din of his screaming), and spoke the positive (“good job”), I prevented an escalation that would have served no one.
When I recognized the playful reptile in my son, he graciously played his part, with tongue darting and tail swishing. I didn’t need to be “right” in this scenario. Things needed to be de-escalated– we needed an end to the conflict so that we could all move on with our day.
Later that day, we had a conversation without the emotional charge of the morning’s drama. We were able to calmly teach our little lizard a few lessons on survival of the fittest – which, in our case, had to do with respect and gratitude for someone else making lunch! The best part was that he was able to hear it, because we focused on the lesson, not on the mistakes!
Is there more yelling in your house than you’d like? You just want your child (or spouse) to learn self control! This online course teaches you step by step how to manage emotional intensity.