When 2 boys want something, but only 1 can be appeased, you get double trouble. Over the weekend, my son was getting excited to meet his cousins for a playdate until… they wanted to watch TV and give the adults a break.
Or so we thought. They couldn’t agree on the programme to watch and both of them started throwing a tantrum. It was threatening to escalate into some sort of lion dance fight coupled with fireworks to suit the Chinese New Year mood.
I wished I could say I was a child whisperer like a variant of Cesar Millan, but no, that did not happen and in fact the opposite happened, the 2 boys seemed like adult whisperers, bringing out the frustration in all the adults within the sound of their shouts, everyone trying to chip in to diffuse the time bomb, only to find that we were at risk of cutting the wrong wire and triggering a detonation.
Eventually, we did diffuse the siutation. As I reflected on the events, I learnt of 4 gifts that we can give in a situation like this.
#1 Give Space
In the heat of the moment, sometimes we forget about this. I remember every time I have students fighting in class, my first instruction is always to separate the students involved.
Give them space from each other and from the scene of crime.
Both are triggers and as long as the triggers are visible, it’s going to be very hard to diffuse the situation. So we brought the boys away from each other and the TV.
#2 Give Time
As soon as we got the space, my wife tried speaking to her nephew, while I tried speaking to my son, practicing Listening, Empathy, Alternative, Promise. I wish I could have another success story out of LEAP and perhaps start writing a book about it and conduct parenting talks and maybe make a movie out of it. Unfortunately, the only leap I got was my son constantly leaping away from me.
Even boiling water takes time to cool from boiling point to room temperature.
I failed to give time. My wife did and found better results. I think we can afford to learn to trust our children (especially if we have already started training them in emotional regulation) that they are trying to regulate but they need time. Don’t we all?
I’ve always told my son that whenever he is angry, he can do 2 things: Count and practise deep breathing. Just because I don’t see him doing it doesn’t mean he isn’t trying. Counting is just one way of creating distance from the emotion and letting the logical mind regain control. My son was probably trying something else of a similar effect.
#3 Give In
We were guests and I simply refused letting my son get what he wanted. I wanted him to understand that we can’t simply demand our way and get what we want, especially if we are guests. Concurrently, the other adults had similar ideologies – hosts should be gracious. As a result, no one got their way.
By giving in, we could have won 1 battle. But no, we chose to lose both battles.
There is a time for ideologies and the time isn’t during a heated moment. Fortunately my wife recognised that and chose to give in on 1 front so that we can focus on the battle on the other front.
Eventually, we did talk about ideologies, but only when we got home and had time to process with our son.
#4 Give Love
Last and most importantly, when emotions are high, every action is magnified. In our attempt to diffuse, we could have sounded harsh, we could have used harsh words, or even if we didn’t, the slightest hint of anything nasty is magnified.
But here’s the good news: Our acts of love are also magnified.
No amount of discipline or management is ever complete without fencing it with love.
And love should have been built even way before the incident, so that we can draw from our savings account of love and remind our child that our actions stem from love even if it doesn’t feel that way.
In saying this, it is absolutely vital that we create a safe emotional environment for our child to build up this savings account of love during peace time or no amount of giving love is going to work during moments like these.
Finally, on no account should we Give Up. I felt like I gave up at that moment, but what I really did was Give Time. Eventually, we still addressed the issue with our son and processed it with him. Giving Up would have been to not deal with the situation and not addressing it at all.