BUILDING EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE FROM THE START
Which I've learned just isn't true.
Feelings come in waves. Each wave has a beginning, middle, and an end. We might experience a wave of feeling as unbearable, but it's not. It's the feelings that are buried deep that cast a specter across generations.
It wasn't until I was an adult that my Oma, Mom, and me had the language to talk about these tacit agreements we'd made with one another. We also came to understand that our family's history with depression. Likely, genetics play their part. But my Mom and I both believe that unexpressed grief or sadness seeped in at the cellular level my great-grandmother, to my Oma, to my Mom, and to me.
My Oma only hinted at the emotional cost of her painful childhood and early adulthood. My Mom and I only remember her crying a few times in her life. Oma passed away a couple of years ago, with those feelings still bound up in her body. The difference for my Mom and me is that we both still have a chance to learn to ride the waves -- to move beyond how we learned to survive as a child, before we possessed the autonomy to make different choices.
I like to think that Oma, free of both physical and emotional pain, is somewhere rooting for us to explore the world of our feelings beyond the paths we know so well.
I remember the first time I experienced anger in my SCT group. Heather, one of the leaders, said: how big would you need to be to hold all that anger?
I thought about it. Then I started to feel the anger fill my body.
LEARNING THE DIFFERENCE....
First, I learned to stop and check in with myself whenever I notice the experience of my feelings and my body collapsing all at once:
I was a nanny for sisters, ages two and six. The two-year old (I'll call her Beth) had a frequent habit of expressing her displeasure in a way that dominated any situation. She'd scream and cry, and sometimes, hit. Her older sister would get quiet. I think we all felt kind of captive to her moods.
I started to pick up Beth at the first sign of this behavior. I'd take her to Time Out, in chair I could see from whatever I'd been doing with her sister. One that had no distractions, like toys or books. I'd set the timer for two minutes (pretty standard: age=number of minutes in Time Out) .
Beth would often scream louder. I didn't engage her. Logic does not work with toddlers when they are upset. (It doesn't work super-great with adults, either.) Thankfully, she believed in the magic of Time Out and didn't leave her chair.
Beth's Mom wasn't sure about how often I used time out. We would overlap in the morning when she was getting ready to go to work. She asked me if it was necessary to put Beth in Time Out so often. I can't remember exactly what I said, but I didn't say I'd stop using it.
Pretty soon after, Beth said to her Mom, "Dawn loves me so much! She puts me in Time Out every day."
I felt so good! Not in a snarky way of her Mom was wrong and I was right. I felt good because I felt like my theory about Time Out -- that it's not a punishment, but a way for kids to just get out whatever feeling their experiencing -- seemed to gather some credence from Beth's declaration to her Mom.
I often think that it would be great if adults could just call Time Out for themselves, or each other. And not be ashamed. It would be practical, I think. Step away from the meeting, or an argument that doesn't really seem like it's about what's being discussed. Go find a chair without any distractions. I don't think grown-ups would have to apply the age=number of minutes in Time Out for it to work, although it would be nice to have that option.
I also think that we'd all do a much better job getting along if grown-ups were encouraged to take more naps. A lot of what I've learned about myself seems to work when I use it with kids. But I've learned at least as much from the children I'm grateful to have in my life.
If you feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your child's emotions and the challenge of communicating with your child effectively when her or his behavior feels out-of-control, Maureen Gomeringer, MSW, LCSW, offers Parent Child Interaction Therapy, an evidence-based treatment intended to increase a child’s sense of self-control and cooperation by strengthening the child’s trust for and connection to his parent. Click here to learn more.
Maureen provides her services through Carolina Partners in Mental Healthcare, the organization that generously supports Cracked [the blog] and Bipolar Girl Rules the World.