staying calm in the midst of a storm

Panic. Powerless. Frightened. These are a few of the reactions we can have when a major storm hits. This summer we had a vacation from somewhere down under (you can read more about it here), and part of that getaway included a tornado warning after a week of complete chaos and stress.

I had never heard a tornado siren before, and that shrill screaming was the most frightening sound I’ve ever heard. It sent fear shooting through me, my heart slammed against my chest and I went into Mommy Madness Mode. I tried my best to stay calm for the sake of my kids, but it was challenging. I was running on empty, and I couldn’t believe our already ruined vacation resulted in this.

But what happens when our child is the one causing the virtual storm to rage around us? What happens when they are screaming at us, physically acting out, will not move their bodies when we NEED them to, or going into complete rages? Is it easy to stay calm? Can we mask everything we’re feeling and thinking? Do we keep quiet, do we keep our voice from rising over the racket? It’s so tough isn’t it, to stay composed when chaos reigns around us?

I recently read an ebook by The Post Institute that has information on how to help our kids stop lying. We’ve had quite a bit of success with curbing our daughters lying, but sometimes it pops it’s ugly little head. In the ebook, Bryan Post says, “There are only two primary emotions: love and fear. This means that all other feelings are the display of one of the primary emotions in disguise.” He gives situations where children and teens lie, and in those scenarios you can identify the fear that perpetrates the lie.

A couple days after reading about fear being at the root of some reactions, a circumstance arose with my daughter, it didn’t include lying, but I remembered what Bryan Post said about all reactions stemming from fear or love.

I had asked my daughter, Payton, to put away a little kids chair. She hefted it up over her head and it landed with a bang on my desk. I wasn’t happy. If she had just carried it to the table as I had instructed her dozens of times before, it wouldn’t have made a dent in my desk. I raised my voice (if you have ever been led to believe I am perfect, indeed I am NOT), and Payton reacted and got mouthy and angry.

Before this little episode the day had been going really well, so what happened? I stopped and remembered what Bryan (Post) had said. I calmed down and decided to “test” his theory. 🙂 I asked Payton to sit on my lap. She did, and I kindly talked to her about what happened. I asked if she had been scared, and she said yes. I could see the fight going out of her as I responded with a calmness verses irritation. I still had her sit down next to me for a few minutes because she had talked back to me, but she did it without argument or anger. It shocked me how quickly her attitude changed when I changed my approach.

There are times when we feel like raising our voices will change a child’s behavior, I’ve done it myself. But it doesn’t. Our child will either ignore us (freeze/flight), or as is more common, our hurting children will respond with that fight (anger and hostility).

Since those first days of fostering, I’ve known that keeping calm is what’s best for our children. There are hundreds of times that I have stayed calm while holding my raging daughter while listening to horrible insults being hurled at me. There are also numerous times when I haven’t been the mommy I want to be.

This situation with my daughter was so blatant, the switch in her demeanor was so quick that it really hit me that her behavior was stemming from fear because of the trouble she thought she would be in or because of my aggravated reaction. It really saddened me that I was causing this reaction in her. It was MY behavior that was setting her off. It was amazing to see Payton calm down when I changed my approach, and then named what she was feeling. (Note that this won’t happen until you have worked with your child on identifying emotions consistently.)

I don’t know if this would’ve had the same outcome if she wasn’t as attached to me. I don’t know that this technique would’ve had the same effect two years ago. What I do know is that approaching our child calmly is always the correct way to handle any situation. When I’ve been calm while holding Payton during her rages in the past, she equalized much faster. There wasn’t a battle between the two of us, I let her have it on her own while I held her.

We aren’t perfect parents and we never will be. If we feel like we’ve acted in a way we shouldn’t have, we need to forgive ourselves and move forward, doing the best we can. That doesn’t mean we make the excuses, “This is how I am, they’ll have to deal with it.” Our child NEEDS us to make every effort to do better. When we parent better, and in the way our hurting child needs, they will make attachments and those raging storms will become mostly sunny days that are interspersed with clouds.

So, as you move forward in helping your child, remember that sometimes when they’re acting out, they are actually reacting because of FEAR. Also remember that when you stay calm, your child has a better chance at staying calm, or at least you are giving them a safe place to fix their behavior.

Sometimes staying calm means keeping ourselves in a healthy state, physically, mentally, and emotionally. For me praying is a BIG part of my parenting, because I feel that without God I couldn’t do it. In fact, I know I couldn’t, I’m not strong enough on my own. My health isn’t good, so I have to rely on Him for emotional, physical, and mental stability. I also have outlets; writing and reading. And I have a husband that carries far more than his fair share.

Have you witnessed a time when you stayed calm and changed your child’s behavior? Do you have any ideas on how to stay composed? What do you do to keep yourself in a positive place?

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