Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Angry's okay

It's no secret that my middle child can be a bit moody.

He's also my most snuggly.  My sweetest.  My most affectionate.

He's the most likely to tell me he loves me multiple times a day.  To wrap his arms around my waist and melt into my embrace.

It's just that his feelings are big.  And while other children feel their feelings, he is oftentimes consumed by them.  They're bigger than he is, right now at least.

But I can see he's starting to grow into these giant-sized emotions.  As the days and months pass I watch him filling them out, like a pair of oversized jeans.  Some days, though, they still hover over him, and he looks so small in their shadow.

I imagine it's scary there.  With those big feelings looming over him.  But all too often I think only of how they affect me, or his brother, or his behavior at school.

Sometimes I tell people that Finn is doing well, when they ask about him.  What I mean is that his happy, subdued moments are currently outweighing the angry ones.  Or I say that we're struggling with him... which means it's the other way around.

I define his successes by happy and his failures by angry.  I can't help it, really.  Because happy makes my life easy and angry makes it very, very hard.

Angry cannot be reasoned with.  No matter how we've prepared.  No matter what we discussed and decided beforehand.

No, angry needs to be felt.

It needs time and space.  Just like happy.  Just like sad.

It needs the same respect, the same empathy that I give his tears, or his moments of overwhelming pride.

We teach kids about angry.  I mean, there it is, right with happy and sad, a bright red slice of our colorful pie charts.  We tell them angry's okay.  That it's a feeling.  Just like all the other feelings.

But when they're really feeling the angry, when they're caught in its fiery grip, I think we oftentimes send a different message.  And the message is this.  Angry is definitely not okay.

And for a small child who feels big feelings... that can be really scary.

Of course kids need to be taught that we can't hurt with our angry.  That it's not an excuse for destruction.

But oftentimes we stop there.  And the message sounds a lot like this.  Stop feeling what you're feeling.  Stop it with the angry.

In play therapy I always bring a selection of "aggressive-release toys" for the kids.  Play dough to smash and pound or a stuffed animal to throw or crayons to scribble so hard with that they break in half under the pressure.

But at home there is no alternative.  It's "don't hit your brother" and "go to your room" and "stop being so angry."

So I'm trying to give him more grace.  To realize he's only five, and he can't mentally talk himself down from his anger.  That when he's angry, he needs a chance to feel it.  And someone, perhaps, to help walk him through.

So every once in a while, when I can check my own anger, I kneel down in front of him.  I ask him why he's so angry and I tell him I understand.  I wrap him up in my arms and I clamp my lips together to stop myself from telling him what to do, or what not to do.

I'd love to say this always works.  And that I'm not oftentimes too busy making dinners and chasing toddlers to do any more than yell STOP!

But sometimes it does work.  Sometimes I realize that the anger was really jealousy or dejection or helplessness.  And sometimes I realize it was just anger.

Even if I get through one out of ten times, though, I hope the message is loud and clear.

Angry's okay.

These big feelings are scary, I know, but I won't make them scarier by saying they're wrong.  By telling them to stop.

I'll help you to see the angry as something to feel.  Something to experience.   Something to release.

But I won't give it more power by allowing it to define you.  You're not an angry child.  You're my child.  And you sometimes feel angry.

Which is just fine.  Because even when it doesn't feel okay... angry's okay.

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