You’re in the supermarket and (despite the promise you make to yourself EVERY. DARN. TIME.) you have a child with you. It’s gone as well as could be expected. You’ve only said “No” 20 billion times and it’s been handled reasonably well. Then you see it but not before they’ve seen it too… in it’s characteristic red and white foil, right near the finish line… (completely intentional, of course) and Little One has grabbed it and even before the “No” comes out, they have started the tirade of insults and complaints and your face has already shown them the answer before you’ve uttered the word so they’ve dropped to the floor arms and legs going and the high-pitched scream is echoing throughout the entire supermarket and you really do feel like (to quote the screaming child) “THE WORST MUM EVER!”.
Did you have a giggle? A sigh? An inward groan? Did you shed a tear (as this happened to you just yesterday and you’re still recovering)? You are not alone!
There is nothing worse than this here meltdown and parenting in public totally sucks!
I have covered minimisation and how to cope in this article but now I want to go a little bit more into the why of it all and tell you something a lot of you won’t believe straight away… this is a GOOD THING your child is doing. Not the whole public thing but the meltdown or the tantrum, that’s one of the best things your child can do for themselves and for YOU too!
What we hear labeled a “tantrum” or a “meltdown” or “losing one’s s***” is in fact an “emotional release”. This is something most of us were not brought up understanding. The reaction to our big feelings as children would have ranged from quick distraction to “I’ll give you something to cry about!” but have you ever had someone just hold space for you whilst you got your feelings out? If so, how much better did you feel afterwards?
When we “stuff” our emotions, they continue to exist. They get stored somewhere in our bodies to be later added to or to come out in undesirable ways. On the flip side, experiencing and validating a feeling can allow it to dissipate or at least become lesser. To let out our sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, doubt in the presence of a loving and connected Listener can be nothing short of transformative!
Children instinctively understand this.
Some people wonder why a well-fed, well-slept (haha… does that exist?), warm, connected baby could still keep howling away but what a lot of us don’t understand (this is also new to me in the last few years) is that even babies offload their big feelings through tears and later what we come to hear referred to as tantrums.
If you allow these big feelings, resist the urge to fix/explain/rationalise and meet your child with warm eye-contact and empathy by way of an “I’m here…”, “I know it’s hard..”, “You’re safe…”, “I love you and I’m right here…” and allow them to get those feelings out, you will see the relief afterwards.
These emotional releases can be huge at first and may take all your time and patience but the more you do it, the less you need to and the best part is that behind most off-track behaviours such as hitting/kicking/biting is usually a full “emotional backpack” which is emptied through tears/tantrums/shaking/sweating/etc.
Hand In Hand parenting have labeled this process of listening empathically to children’s feelings Staylistening.
Some may be alarmed by the concept of allowing children to cry and particularly of seeing this as a good and positive thing. There is a world of difference between leaving a child to cry and staying and supporting a child’s cries. To abandon a crying child leaves them feeling isolated and sends a red flag to their survival system flooding them with cortisol and adrenaline. To meet a child’s cry with warmth, eye contact and touch (if they allow) validates their emotion and shows that you are there, they are safe and your love is unconditional, which kick-starts the healing process.
All parents are familiar with some form of broken cookie, incorrectly cut toast or wrong cup colour moment when suddenly the whole world seems to cave in on your child for what seems like nothing from your perspective. This is referred to as a “pre-text”.
Your emotionally intelligent child is using a seemingly minor incident to shift into an emotional release and offload some fear or sadness from a moment ago, a day ago, a week ago or even from their birth experience. The great news is that we don’t need to know what it is or what they’re feeling. Your child is good and wise and knows how to work through this, they just need your loving support during the process.
What if you can’t do it? What if you just don’t have it in you to hold space right now? That’s OK. You’re a human being too and most likely, you haven’t had this same emotional generosity extended to you. I would try Dr Laura Markham’s Stop, Drop and Breathe approach using a mantra to help yourself such as “This is not an emergency!” or “My child is not a problem, my child is HAVING a problem!” and then try and give them this support, or tag in an available partner or support person. I would also get yourself the same form of safe and connected release in the form of a parent Listening Partnership.
This is an important one of many tools we can use as empathic parents. If you are starting out, this article has 7 easy ways to get started and I also highly recommend a daily practice of Special Time.
Embarking on this journey can be scary (hence the need to support yourself as per above) but this healthy outpouring and validation of emotions actually leads to emotional intelligence and emotional regulation, which is an invaluable and empowering skill for our most important people to have.
If you want to know more or want some Listening Time, Just Ask.
Love, Aunty Ask xx