Every once in a while the doubt creeps in.
I am doing this wrong.
I am messing this up.
I will ruin her.
We have a daughter who loses her temper. It used to be quite often. I’d feel like I was walking on eggshells trying not to trigger what would set it off next, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice our rules, either.
These days it happens less. Much less. She starts to cry uncontrollably and clenches her fist. Sometimes she swings. She misses but I suspect that one day her fist will meet with a part of me.
You’d never know it if you met her. She is sweet and polite and is always kind. She is thoughtful, friendly, and helpful. I’d like to think she is the best of me, but I suspect she also has parts of the worst of me, as well.
Somehow I became the person who deals with her. I think it’s because I feel guilty about her behavior, even though I know better to take it personally. Did she learn her anger from me? Does she remember when I used to yell all the time? Did I teach her that this way of coping is okay? Because it’s not.
It happens most before bed so I am sure that tiredness is a key component. I take her into her bedroom, usually against her will, so that I can protect her sisters from a physical altercation and the visual of their sister breaking down. I sit in front of her door so she cannot get out. Sometimes she lets me hold her while she lashes out. Other times I look at my phone or look around the room I decorated just for her.
I disengage. I am patient. I talk softly and slowly.
Over the last 6 months we’ve taught her how to calm herself down. The conversation used to begin like this:
“Let’s practice some ways we can calm down. One way is to take deep breaths.”
I practice taking deep breaths and she follows along with me.
“Another way is to count to 10 slowly.”
I begin counting and she joins in. Sometimes we count backwards.
“And another way is to do some stretching or some yoga. This helps our body to do work so our mind can slow down.”
I sit cross-legged on the floor in front of her and begin stretching.
Her participation was always reluctant. Sometimes it took multiple attempts for her to practice. I get that. Sometimes it just feels good to be mad.
But now? Now, the girl knows how to calm herself down. Now I can say
“How can you calm yourself down?” or “Which one of our ways do you want to use to calm yourself down?” and she picks – on her own.
That I taught her.
That I hope she’ll take with her through her life. Not the anger.
The best part is that even though we usually do this behind closed doors, she is starting to use these techniques on her own in other situations. She can apply what she’s learned.
And her sisters ARE watching. The 3 year old told me the other day that she needed to calm down and began taking deep breaths.
While I may never stop wondering if I am getting this parenting thing done right, some days I feel like my deep breaths are helping me get closer.