Last week, I lost my temper with my kids for the first time in a long time. It involved a child complaining about fresh mangos. My 7-year-old whined, threw the fresh mango off her plate and stomped over to the cupboard to serve herself dried mango from a bag.
I was not curious or patient.
My response was not kind.
Mango juice dripping from my hands I growled, "Oh NOOO You DON'T!!!" and started lecturing on how much time and energy I spend shopping for, making and cleaning up after her delicious and nutritious meals.
She of course cried and ran off to her room, which was a really smart move. And to be clear, she was the only one following my advice at that moment.
After we all calmed down and reconnected, I did some reflection on why this mango incident pushed my buttons so quickly and how I could avoid this situation again, given the fact that I'll be making at least 47 billion more snacks and meals for them this summer. Chances are they will complain about and negotiate through many of them — because that's normal behavior from kids wanting more power, choice and control over their own lives.
Mealtime madness, bedtime drama and uncooperative transitions are common during summer months when we lose the security and predictability of our routine. Here are my ideas to help you increase the sweetness and fun of summer with your children.
My first recommendation is to take a deeeeeeep breath. (However, I would never
recommend that you say that to anyone who is already angry. For both kids and adults, it almost always sounds patronizing when a calm and collected person tells someone shouting about mango to take a deep breath, right?)
Adults can practice breath counting: Inhale for four counts, hold four, exhale four and hold four. Repeating this several times helps your nervous system calm quickly.
School-aged kids can do a Hand Meditation: With a hand outstretched, help them trace each of their fingers. Inhale up the thumb; exhale down the other side; inhale up the pointer finger, exhale, etc. That’s five mindful breaths, which is plenty of time to calm their body and mind.
Toddlers can learn to take deep breaths with Buddy Breathing: Place a small stuffed animal on their belly and guide them to watch their buddy as they take a deep breath in, then out. Try it slow at first, then take a few quick breaths. It’s like their buddy is on a roller coaster. Ask them to notice how their body feels when they do this. Does their buddy like to snuggle and breathe together? Plant a seed that this is something they can do when they need to calm themselves.
Remember to practice breathing exercises when calm so the skills are well-rehearsed and easy to access when you feel your face turning red and your fists clenching.
Adults who are feeling easily triggered by normal testing behaviors can ask a few questions that may help them make changes to create a more sustainable and fun summer. Questions like: What’s under the surface? The fact that my child tossed mango on the counter and stomped around was the superficial behavior that sent me into rage mode, but underneath my reaction is an ever-present feeling of being overwhelmed about how much time I spend each day preparing food and how much food we waste in general. Beneath that is the desire to have a nice, calm meal with my children that’s focused on connection and catching up on our day. And digging even deeper is a comparison: “Good moms” don’t have kids who throw mango. They don’t need to raise their voice. What am I doing wrong?
Once I get curious, I can then identify that I’m judging and comparing and “shoulding” all over myself. I know this isn’t helpful, and I can begin to shift toward connection (details below).
Kids who are sensitive, whiny and pushing back frequently have some underlying, unmet needs to get curious about. What time of day do tantrums occur? What are they doing? Who are they with? Are they hungry/tired/frustrated? Are there any transitions or disruptions happening in the bigger picture? I find that summer is a time of near constant change and transition. Whether it is camps, adventures, travel or hosting guests, summer is a major shift in routine, and kids often end up tired and maybe feeling a bit insecure about the schedule or what to expect on a day-to-day basis.
For all ages, it’s key to reconnect to the quiet and calm inside us as individuals after big feelings blaze through. Using breath, music, pillow punching or journaling can speed the process along. Kids bounce back quickly, but if you’re like me, you can stew in guilt, anger and shame for days after blowing up and saying things you regret. However, that’s not kind to you or your kids, so remember to speak gently to yourself, like you would a friend.
It’s also valuable to connect to one another in a way that lets everyone know they are valued and safe. I also make a point to normalize anger, sadness, frustration and confusion; they all are okay to express. I’ve found that nonverbal communication is helpful when emotions are fresh; it’s a lot easier to talk and problem solve a few hours or days later.
It took about 20 minutes for the stomping and door-slamming to subside after the mango incident. At that point, I said nothing. I simply went to find my daughter, sat on the floor and opened my arms so she could join me. Sometimes she needs more time, but on this day she came over slowly and sunk into my lap, resting her head against mine. We took a few breaths and then moved on.
Later that evening, I asked some of my favorite connection questions: Were you surprised by my big emotions? What were you feeling? How do you think I could have handled that better? If you were me, what would you have done? I wonder what you could do or say next time to help yourself get what you want?
Petterson lives in Moscow with her husband and their two children. She left public education to become a yoga instructor, sleep specialist and mindful parenting educator. She can be contacted via her website at www.kristinepetterson.com.