It was a week before my daughter, nearly 5, started kindergarten. We were in a cafe and she kept whining she wanted something to eat. She'd just had berries and babycino and there was an apple in front of her. Nothing was really going to fill her up - she was already full - of feelings that needed to be let out.
She picked up a metal menu holder and threw it. I picked her up and took her outside. She began to scream and shout and though at first she was in my arms, she became too physical for me to hold and I put her down where she rolled around on the ground. I kept close and kept watch. She was doing a great job of letting all those feelings out that were keeping her off-track and disconnected and unco-operative.
Now I know what a good tantrum feels like. Amazing. I had one today with a Listening Partner listening to me, because I felt real disappointed about an event that had to be cancelled. And as I was having it I realised just how good it is. I cried out, it's not fair over and over, hit the bed and screamed. I felt the disappointment melt away.
Ever since I'd read The Aware Baby by Aletha Solter and the Parenting by Connection booklets written by Patty Wipfler from Hand in Hand, I'd been aware of the benefits of crying, tantruming, laughing, trembling and shaking with the attention of an adult close by.
Very few parents think, "Fantastic, she's going to have a trantrum at last!" It's usually anticipated and viewed with groans and "Oh my god why does have it to be right now in the middle of the supermarket". But it changed my point of view. Where previously crying was something to be stopped at all costs, I now realised that crying was the outlet for hurt, not the hurt itself. These physical expressions of feelings kept my daughter's internal emotional world clear, kept her thinking well without anxiety and kept us nice and connected. And to be honest, it's so much easier to think my child's doing such a great job getting rid of the icky stuff (and think of all the therapy bills I'm saving!) than to think my child is being naughty because she's having a tantrum, or that she needs to be shut up because crying is noisy.
My daughter has zest! My God, if our parents had known about this, I'd be saving on therapy bills. The good thing is it's not too late. I get to have it too. It's pretty impossible to listen to someone else cry or tantrum or have deep belly laughs or wrestle with them, if no-one is listening to you. So I have listening partners who I can talk to in person or on the phone. They need no training for they offer no advice; they simply encourage me to talk, to cry, to get down on the ground and bang my fists or flail my arms in the air, to tantrum, moan, grown, whine, or laugh deeply and loudly. In the beginning I felt self-conscious and awkward but I kept going. I had no other support that would really help with the emotional side of parenting. It's been a little over a year now and one thing I've noticed is that I am thinking much more clearly. I still feel the resistance to getting on the phone, I still eat bucket loads of sweets rather than talk to someone, or pick at the skin on my fingers and eat my fingernails rather than get on the phone, but more often than not I persuade myself the second best thing is to get with my listening partner.
I hope for my daughter it's the first best thing! I can't stop the hurt and the difficult events that will happen in her life but I can listen to her when she needs to let go of the hurt or rail against how hard something is. And she'll figure out the rest. Once the feelings are listened to, it's pretty easy to get back to the job of good thinking. We now know that the brain's pre-frontal cortex, responsible for regulating emotions, finds its regulating work easiest if these feelings are processed. If they are not, they either go into implicit memory, a type of memory one is not able to recall but which is apparent through patterns of behaviour, sensation and perception. Or it goes into explicit memory which we can recall. Either way, behaviour we find disturbing in our children will restimulate these feelings in us again if they are not processed and lead us to ambivalent or off-track behaviour towards our children.
Thus the cycle continues of patterns of behaviour our children learn from us that are not healthy. So in the interests of zesty individuals, communities and planet earth, find a listening partner or a whole group of parents for example, that will listen, and have a good long cry, have a good long moan, or have a good deep belly laugh.
Over the course of the next week my daughter continued to have good long sessions where she was able to let go of some of her separation anxiety and fear of change/new things. On the first day of school she was able to feel the excitement of it all, and so far has continued to approach school excitedly.