When Peachy the hamster was put to sleep last week Rayne cried hard. We were at the vet’s waiting area with lots of dog owners waiting for their appointments. It was quite a distressing scene and I noticed people looking over with concern and sympathy. There was even a little girl with her mum looking over at us with tears in her eyes! I held Rayne tight in my arms while she cried. I almost shh’d her a few times and the words “don’t cry” almost slipped out of my mouth. It was quite difficult not to do or say those things because that is what I heard people say to me when I cried as a child, so it’s kind of ingrained. However, I don’t want that for my children, to think that it is not Ok to cry or not OK to feel sad. I don’t want them to bottle up their feelings and keep them internalised. I want them to be able to cry as loud and as hard as they want for as long as they want until they feel better. I don’t know about you but I always feel better after a good cry! I don’t want my children to be ashamed of crying. This is why I never hide tears from my children. Gosh, lots of tears were cried in our house over the last few weeks with the miscarriage and then peachy dying. Rayne and Rose saw me cry a few times! I didn’t wipe away my tears or pretend I was OK, I let them see the tears roll down my cheeks and I explained that I was feeling sad at that moment, thinking about the baby we lost.
I also feel the same about anger and frustration, these are normal feelings so why stop them? I have worked with lots of children over the years, a lot of whom were labelled as having ‘difficulties managing their behaviour’. I always told myself I would never use the words “calm down” when my own children were feeling angry or frustrated. I really don’t think that term helps at all when a child is in the middle of a major meltdown or outburst.
Rose gets frustrated a lot. I think it is because her brain works faster than her body or because she can’t get her words out fast enough and she often shouts or hits to release her frustration. I believe it is really important to allow her to get the frustration out so I allow her to shout and hit (as long as it is not a person she is hitting or something she can break that isn’t hers). If I need to (ie when hitting me or her sister) I will remind her that she can hit a pillow or cushion rather than tell her to stop or “calm down”. If she breaks something that belongs to her then that’s fine, I sometimes feel frustrated if this happens, especially if it is something I have just bought for her but I remind myself that it is hers now and she will have to deal with the consequence and hopefully learn from it. I think there is a far more valuable lesson learnt from allowing her to do it rather than stopping her and making her suppress her feelings.
When Rayne was in school she would come home and have huge meltdowns in the evenings, shouting, crying, unable to sit still at the dinner table. At first I was worried she had ‘difficulties managing her behaviour’ but then I realised she was trying to tell us something. Imagine if we had told her to stop, to calm down or to sit down (actually we did try all those things but they didn’t work or feel right). If we carried on with those methods she may have eventually given up on trying to tell us what the problem was and instead kept everything bottled up inside. It could
have been the start of mental health problems for Rayne. I remember her saying that she found school boring as they had to sit down a lot – at the desk, on the carpet, in assembly, at the dinner table. Rayne is a very active child, always moving or fiddling so I could just imagine how hard this must of been for her. No wonder she got so frustrated at dinner time and needed to move around and make a noise and no wonder she got angry when we told her not to!
You may be wondering what I do if I get angry or frustrated. Well firstly I try and prevent getting to that stage so I will say to Rayne and Rose that I am starting to feel cross if they are doing something that I find hard to manage. I will explain that what they are doing is making me frustrated. I also tell them when I am tired and feeling cranky as a way of letting them know that my patients is lower than usual. If I do lose my sh*t (it happens, I am human) and shout at them I will apologise afterwards and explain why I shouted and we talk about how we could have all managed the situation better. I think it is really important for my children to hear me say “mummy got it wrong, I shouldn’t have done that”. If I can prevent shouting at them but need to release my frustration I normally take myself into a different room and shout into a pillow or put some music on really loud and dance it off!!
Hopefully by allowing Rayne and Rose to express and own their feelings and emotions now and witness me do the same, they will learn how to understand and manage their emotions when they are adults as well as show empathy towards others. If they can do that I will be one happy mum!
Do you have any tips around emotional literacy? I would love to hear them…