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When Crayons Dare to be Wrong

Ah, Spring Break continues. A few scant days into things and once again I am reminded of my conflicting feelings on the idea of my children having unlimited free time with…me.

Last night my daughter woke up around 1:00 screaming. She does this from time to time (far less often than at the beginning of kindergarten so I’m calling it a win). When she wakes up to go potty she gets disoriented, which leads to feelings of great rage, crying, and screaming. I got up with her, helped her calm down and go potty, then tucked her back in. The whole things took less than 10 minutes (we have enough practice to get as low as 6 minutes sometimes), and then she was out again. I, of course, lay awake for hours with my own brain refusing to settle, but at least I was able to get her back down.

Fast forward to this morning. The sleep disruption affected both of us. She was coasting from one meltdown to another approximately every 17 seconds, and I was so exhausted I was not in the space to even remember that we were both tired—let alone handle things the way I would like. When she finally turned into a screaming, jumping, sobbing mess because the crayon she picked was the wrong shade of yellow, I took a moment and simply watched her. I took a few deep breaths and really looked at her.

And I saw that my daughter, who was screaming, “I can’t calm down by myself!” over and over again, was telling the truth. She really couldn’t. She needed my help. So I took a few more deep breaths, found my calm, and took her to her room. I laid down in bed with her, had her lie next to me, and told her to simply listen to my breathing. She screamed various protests, to which I simply replied, “I’m only asking you to listen. Just listen, honey. You don’t have to calm down. You don’t have to breathe with me. I’m only asking you to listen to my breathing.” Over and over as I held her (while she screamed and cried) and rubbed her back. After a few minutes she stopped protesting and started listening. Which meant she had to stop screaming. It also meant she started to sync her breathing to mine unconsciously after a few moments.

Most of all what I think happened in that moment was I laid down, taking deep breaths, over and over again. While she was still in the midst of her meltdown I was able to access my own center and my own sense of calm. Once I was able to feel that, she was able to feel that. I became her anchor of calm in a storm of emotions.

While that tantrum ended and we were able to talk about it, there were a couple more in the next hour or so. We got out her mind jars, talked about “pizza breaths,” and other tools she had to help her calm down. (Her favorite was her brother, who was in a particularly helpful and loving mood today, bless him!) She was able to use them and transition away from me. The tantrums that followed lacked the intensity of earlier in the morning, and were worked through more quickly. Instead of our day going south, it steadily improved and eventually we all had a lovely afternoon and evening.

I’ve spent a lot of time today reflecting on what worked and didn’t work, and two things stood out. 1) Giving myself a way to breathe and find my own sense of calm was crucial. 2) Having tools ready for her to use gave her a sense of independence and mastery over her feelings…but not until she was able to access that. I’m still her bridge at times. As much as I want her to be able to self soothe and access all of this stuff independently, she still needs me. I mean, I know she can’t operate a motor vehicle yet and I need to drive her places. But I still forget that she needs me to help her maneuver those intense emotional states just as much.

My little ones are just that—little. When I find the end of my wits, I’m going to stick a reminder in for myself to breathe. Just breathe. And remember that as her grown-up, I’m the one who knows how to drive.

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