In a busy family, it’s hard not to lose my temper and say things I regret. My friends know that I’m not perfect. I strive to give myself and others grace as my family and I learn to live compassionately with each other. Sometimes, my kids and I laugh, “Where did our listening ears go? Oh! There! Out the window! Come back!!” Sometimes, my kids and I cry together when our needs are not met. Sometimes, I get out our finger puppets I made several years ago, because it’s easier to talk to puppets than look each other in the face. Heck, that’s why I host a radio show each week: to get a constant flow of inspiration and information talking with other parents. I don’t like the term “expert”. Life seems more like a series of science experiments. Each one of us knows ourselves best; especially when we tune into each other and share our feelings and needs.
So, what triggers meltdowns for me?
After observing myself losing it countless times, I’ve learned I’m triggered when I don’t understand the situation or the other person’s perspective. I’m looking for blame and the answer to “how do we fix this problem?”
For example, one child yells “he hit me!” and I feel tense. Instead of connecting to the present feelings and needs that are up for my kids, I’m likely blaming the person who was just accused of hitting or feeling annoyed that the person who “tattled” just interrupted what I was doing. If I’m lucky, I don’t say a word. I just sigh a big sigh of dread and exhaustion. I pray the kids didn’t hear me. If I lose it, I start talking. I see the headlines now: “How to trigger a meltdown in 3 easy steps: advise, give your opinion, and tell someone else what you think they must be feeling.” I start to feel regret almost the second the first sound comes out of my mouth. The words seem to have a life of their own. Yikes! I already begin to plan for the humbling experience of damage control that’ll come later.
I have another choice.
I take a breath. This is an important step, not to be overlooked. If I don’t stop and decide how I’m going to react, I will likely be triggered. I want to hold my needs and my children’s needs with care and curiosity. After a breath, I look around, using my senses to observe as objectively as I can, and see what is happening. I notice the child who is speaking has a smile. I notice the “accused” is crying. It may be the other way around. They may be blankly staring at me waiting for my next move. They may both start to laugh. What do I see? What do I hear?
Sometimes, simply waiting in silence, each child will speak up and tell us all what they were looking for when the first child said “he hit me!”. What did each child have in mind? What was important to each of them? How are they feeling about what happened?
Then, lo and behold, we discover that the phrase “he hit me” means “I’m frustrated because I wanted to play with that…in that way…with him…with her… I’m feeling disappointed because the other child has something else in mind and I wanted us to agree.” “He hit me” means “I don’t like that” or “I don’t like waiting”. Better yet, “he hit me” was all a part of the joke and the play fighting that was going on before I disrupted the fun! Ha, ha. The joke’s on me. Once we get the gist of what’s going on and share what we understand, then I feel my tension decrease.
What’s your trigger? What are your choices?