Yesterday, my seven year old ran to me sobbing. “Mum, I got really angry and said something mean to my friend.” He collapsed into my arms and I held him while he cried. He let out all of his feelings. Everything that had been slowly piling up until the collapse of treating his friend unkindly. I listened and listened more.
“One day your child will make a mistake or a bad choice and run to you instead of away from you, and in that moment you will know the immense value of peaceful, positive, respectful parenting.” L. R. Knost
‘I want to show you.’
He took me to his computer and showed me what he had written to his friend in their game and then looked at me and said, “maybe now he won’t want to be my friend” and he cried some more. I sat with him while he told me about his anger and his sadness.
He didn’t fear my response or shaming or judgment. He didn’t expect me to fix it. He just expected me to be there.
As calm began to be restored, he looked at me, pondering what to do next. I said to him that everyone makes choices they regret sometimes and sometimes those choices can hurt the feelings of people we care about. We can’t go back in time to change what happened but we are always in control of what we do to make things right if that’s what we want to do.
He thought for a minute, took a breath and walked back to his computer and called his friend. He apologised and explained to him why he had gotten so frustrated and he asked me to message his mum and let her know too so she could talk to him if he was upset.
The adults in his life are allies. It never occurred to him that I would judge his actions harshly. It never occurred to him that the mother of his friend would do anything but support her child and be grateful that my son had wanted her to know.
How beautiful is that? Isn’t this how it should be? What purpose would punishment serve here? If instead I told him that he couldn’t be trusted to use his computer/would have to earn back my trust/could not use his computer for a week or whatever other arbitrary thing I could think of, next time would he run to me, or away from me? Would he smother his mistake in shame, or share his experience and seek guidance from those around him?
Later that night as we lay together, he brought it up again.
“I just got so angry.”
Anger is a tricky emotion because it is often masking our true feelings of sadness, fear or frustration. We talked about anger. We talked about how saying things or making decisions when you are angry are often choices we regret with hindsight. When you are hurting, you are more likely to try and hurt someone else. I reminded him that I am ‘his person’ as we say in our family. I am always there to hold that space for him. In the conversation that followed, we shared stories and experiences of feeling angry and talked about antidotes to feeling overwhelmed. He thought he might like to give himself some space and take some breaths next time.
Today, I heard the frustration beginning to build again. I heard him pleading with his friend to stop. And then before it peaked and overflowed to the point of no return, he ran over to me, grabbed my hand, led me upstairs and cuddled me in silence.
Nothing was said, but some tears were shed. We sat for a couple of minutes like that. Then he got up, went downstairs, put his headphones back on and said calmly, ‘I don’t like it when you do that.’
Recently, I wrote about unschooling and the bit no one sees. The huge time investment in emotional development. This is a perfect example. These are the moments I have so much gratitude for. The moments I am so happy I am there. I see recognition in my child, that they can look up from the turmoil around them and find love and guidance, not fear and punishment. And for me, that is why all of this matters.
Beautiful blog. That is exactly what kids need. Unfortunately I learned the hard way but am so thankful I figured it out while my boys are still teens. Your son sounds like a great person. I really like how quickly he found a better way to react to his anger. I had a bit of an anger problem I completely overcame. Everyone is different but I do like to share one insight with others who struggle with anger. I have to give credit to a previous counselor though as she pointed it out to me. For me, my expectations were the biggest source of my anger. An example most adults can relate to is getting up on a work day, getting ready, and driving to work. If I expect to wake up on time, follow my usual routine, and then drive to work and be early or on time every morning then I’m expecting perfection and setting myself up to be stressed, irritated and potentially angry. Human nature isn’t perfect and therefore we should never expect everything to always go as planned and everyone to always make the right decisions. Otherwise when we wake up late one morning, on the day of a meeting that starts right when we normally get to work, the stress begins. So we hurry to make up for the lost time. It’s extra important this day as we had planned to show up pepared, on time and calm to the meeting to make a good impression. This expectation of perfection and fear of not living up to our values magnifies our sense of urgency. We skip our morning workout. We express frustration and impatience to any family members who need our help which in turn starts their day off bad too through emotional contagion. We get in our car expecting everyone to drive perfectly like us. So we honk at others driving mistakes. We swear when we miss every green light. We drive more risky such as speeding through the parking lot to get parked before running to the meeting having been ruined by the emotional toll. Then 20% of attendees are later than you because that’s nature. The remainder of your day is filled with narrow minded negative thoughts and criticism and blaming. After typing this scenario, I feel sorry for people who live like that allowing themselves to be a miserable product of their expectations, values and environment. Anytime I find myself becoming miserable, I asses my expectations and values. Broadening our perspective in this way allows us to open up to developing new ways of viewing our experiences giving us the ability to creatively modify our limiting and unrealistic ways of moving through our lives. In my case, I’m open to all morning experiences that come my way. I may be late to work sometimes or be late to an important meeting. But it doesn’t bother me as I remedy those situations in a way that is in accord with my values. I’m usually 15 minutes early most days. So occasionally being late doesn’t matter at all as my employer always gets more of my time than I’m paid for. If I’m late to a meeting I quietly apologize. When the time is right, I explain why I was late. I still value punctuality a lot. But I expect human nature not perfection. It’s amazing how easy it is to avoid so much stress, anger and misery just by not expecting perfection. Sorry, I just typed a reply that’s a bit lengthy. To summarize, your blog shows you’re an awesome parent, your son seems caring, intelligent and has empathy which is probably nourished by your great parenting wisdom. It was nice to come across your blog as it helps show me the way I relate to my two boys gives them the support they need to grow into a version of themselves they choose to live a life that is fulfilling to them.
What a beautiful perspective. I have never thought of it like that but it makes a lot of sense and is a really helpful way to catch yourself setting up for stress. Thank you for sharing