The Kid was in a bad mood this weekend. Easy to inadvertently poke without any discernible reason.
Sunday night, after another large incident over a benign thing, the three of us sat down and had a conversation to try to figure out what was actually going on.
Turns out, he had read something in one of his books a few days prior that really bothered him and he had been ruminating about it all weekend.
Once we talked through the stuff in the book, he felt much better and went back to being his usual self.
(Also, the stuff in the book was in no way something that he “should” have worried about, but we had a gentle conversation instead of just telling him he shouldn’t be worried, or “I’ll give you something to cry about,” or “man up,” and on and on. It’s important for kids—for people—to know that they’re safe and they’re not going to be dismissed if they are vulnerable with you. Talking about fears is vulnerable.)
A friend and I had a conversation about an incident with her kid. The kid came home from school cranky and withdrew. It took several hours before the kid talked about it; it was concealed simply by cranky and withdrawn behavior.
Cranky and withdrawn behavior is easy to see as “that person is being a jerk.” Especially if the person is an age where sulking is expected.
We build bridges in these situations when we meet the cranky (or angry, or withdrawn) person with love.
We sat down with The Kid, first with him on The Climbing Daddy’s lap and later on mine. We talked calmly, we expressed concern, we let him write things down when he wasn’t comfortable talking. And we were patient in both his grossly unfounded fears and the amount of time it took to work through it. (And we suggested, since he agreed that talking helped, that he volunteer next time to talk about things that worry him instead of steeping in them for days.)
My friend met her kid with love. Went and snuggled. At first she was rejected, but instead of leaving, she stayed. The walls came down and the tearful story came out.
Back in the day, the first really big argument between The Climbing Daddy and I wasn’t really about what we were arguing about. The incident had strong ties to underlying things, and those were the things we needed to have a conversation about, instead of an argument about the surface stuff.
I’m 100% certain that that wasn’t the only argument for which that was true. Does it sound familiar to you?
In that case, meeting the anger with affection would have both calmed the anger and gotten to the heart of the problem. (I don’t fault him for not doing that, in part because that’s not how most people react most of the time, and in part because I was pushing his buttons just as well as he was pushing mine. But we’re getting better at it. Especially as we have more practice with The Kid.)
Anger and withdrawal are defense mechanisms, fueled by anger in return. See if you can diffuse them with love.