I am possibly the only mother on the planet who gets excited when her kids tantrum. It’s not because it’s pleasant for any of us but that it is so affirming to know what is happening for them and be able to help them in ways that are most useful to them at the time.
On Friday, our 11 yo, Joe was home from school. He’d broken his little toe to the point of nearly detaching it from his foot and his teacher and I agreed that a few days at home would help him to heal. He had a small amount of work to complete from school and we had the afternoon to complete it; at about 2pm it all began.
Joe sat at the kitchen table, looked at his work and then had a massive tantrum. This included throwing things and screaming at me. At first I thought he was possibly experiencing an intense Processing Tantrum…where he was coming to terms with having to do something that he really would prefer not to do.
I was not 100% sure if it was a Processing Tantrum but it was obvious the powerful fight/flight (what I call The Flesh Brain System) in his brain was in charge of his entire brain-body system. I did know I first had to help him take that off-line so that his more social and rational brain systems could engage.
I said, “Tomatoes!”
Then I said, “Squirrel!”
This is a strategy from Hand to Hand Parenting and works by forcing people to weaken any learned anger-to-violence circuits within their brains.
While some anger to violence reactions are essential at times of self-defence – this was a learned pattern, one that we have been working on weakening so he doesn‘t over-react during times of stress which are not life-threatening or actually dangerous.
By suggesting an unrelated physical item, his brain could not help but change gear. And, as they say, the secret of humour is surprise. The unexpected image of tomatoes and squirrels entering his mind forced his pro-social brain systems, which work through pictures and sensations, to come on-line and bump the fight/flight Flesh Brain System off-line. As I intended.
Joe smiled. He didn’t want to but he did. Then he grinned at me.
Then the magic happened: he got a look of surprise on his face, as if he had had a sudden realisation. “I know what’s wrong!” He declared, “I haven’t eaten properly since breakfast time.”
He recognised that he was experiencing one of many kinds of Reaction Tantrum; where something to do with homeostasis is out of whack.
He raced into the kitchen and fetched a banana, some ham and a glass of milk. He consumed these at speed and within minutes he was clearly back in a calm body.
I could have done the happy dance! Clearly, at 11 yo, he is now aware enough of the sensations in his body that he can identify, at least some, stressors and know how do deal with them for himself.
When all said and done, one day he will leave home.
It is heartening for me to know that he is well on track to being able to identify and manage alone those things, which are upsetting but not life threatening, and address the real source of stress when he needs to.
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