What if we borrowed Newton’s 3rd law and apply it to the field of emotions? What would it sound like? This idea struck me as I reflected on the incidents that happened between my son, my wife and me.
Most of us should be familiar with Newton’s (less formal) 3rd law of motion – For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Applying this idea to human interactions and emotional responses, we get something similar – with a twist.
I shall try to elaborate on “Equal”, “Opposite” and “Should be” through a few case studies.
A couple of weeks back, I shared that I had difficulty getting my son belted up in the car seat, so I lost my temper, I got angry and shouted “PAPA ANGRY!”. His response? He screamed, cried and struggled even more. What emotion was he experiencing? Probably fear or anger. My negative response of shouting, which was birthed in anger, was met with an equally negative response.
My response had an external target, it was targeted at my son and it triggered him to retaliate in an almost similar fashion.
On some mornings, our son would crawl over to my wife and say “I love you mummy” and proceed to give her a hug. This naturally invites her reciprocate in similar fashion.
In both cases 1 and 2, we saw that an emotional response directed outwards will meet with an equal emotional response directed back.
One night, our son was struggling to sleep and was moving around wildly on the bed. At some point, he swung his knee and hit me on my lips. I yelped in pain and repeatedly shouted ouch. Concerned, he came over and kissed me on my lips and said sorry. My yelp that was birthed in hurt was met with a kiss that was birthed in love. The difference was my response was directed inward and this led to an opposite emotional response that was directed back at me.
In case 3, we see that an emotional response directed inward was met with an opposite emotional response directed back.
It was yet another night of struggling to sleep. It reached a point where our son got frustrated and hit my wife and tried to pull her hair. In response, she chose not to shout at him, instead, she explained that she felt hurt and that proceeded to explain what he had learnt in school “Hands are not for hitting”.
She continued to explain and demonstrate what hands are used for, how they could be used for caring and showing love. She used her hands to brush his face gently, stroke his hair and held his hands (As I’m writing this, I’m wondering what would happen if I tried pulling her hair in the same way, would she do the same?).
Immediately, our son repeated the same actions on her – tension diffused, he fell asleep shortly after that.
In Case 4, the emphasis is on “should be“. My wife had a choice and was aware of it, so she chose not to respond aggressively to our son’s aggressive response.
It is with this observation in mind that I started writing this “Newton’s 3rd law of (e)motion”. Emotions serve as an alarm clock. A field that, even as adults, we struggle to regulate, what more to say young children. But if we endeavour to raise emotionally aware and resilient children, then we have to be the ones to model it.
While Newton’s 3rd law of motion is absolute and follows the law of nature, the hypothetical “3rd law of (e)motion” offers a chance to break the law through the words “Should be”. It throws the responsibility to us to choose our actions wisely, to listen to our alarm clock of emotions and consider what we want to show our kids.
It is a heavy burden, but one that only we can bear. We don’t always display the right response to our emotions, but if we can succeed more frequently than we fail, I think we’ve got a good shot in raising emotionally aware and resilient children.