Sunday, September 13, 2009

A three year old dilemma

Caught in a temper tantrum, this endless loop of wailing angst about some trivial detail that must be absolutely the way he wants it, now. Too distraught with purest frustration and terrifying anger to bring himself to ask nicely. He shakes with the effort of it, and bellows out against being broken in this unacceptable way. Reviving the flame when he starts to tire, re-investing himself in achieving the detail, fanning the total hysterical devotion. He shakes his head heavily from side to side, his hands are a blur of up and down motion, his face a mask of incredulous misery. Even when he allows himself to be touched or cuddled, he continues sobbing and reviving. At any sign that he’s relenting, I try to touch the point of reason in him, gently, carefully, with cooing sympathy, giving him permission to begin to let it go. But he won’t take it. He recognizes my attempt and insists on his right to be sad. How can I deny that? But what is the reasonable period? Where is the line between learning to console yourself and learning to wallow in the power of the current emotional state despite its destructive effect on your goal?

And after a time, I start to think, No More. I’ve done all that can be reasonably expected, and now it’s your responsibility to find a way out of this. Enough time and energy has been spent, on both our parts, for this particular emotional overload. Now you need to overcome it – that’s your job. You have the capacity, and it’s time. Especially if there’s a reason I want to move forward with the schedule or we’re already pressed for time. So now I find it hard to see through the blur of whether I’ve really provided a reasonable amount of time and support for the level of emotional distress he’s in, regardless of whether the cause seems trivial, or am I simply letting my impatience and agenda colour my thinking?

And after many of these episodes in a relatively short period, I think, Really? Again? I sigh, internally, externally, and my offerings of cooing sympathy peter out more quickly in both length and quantity. My expectations of how easily and efficiently he should be able to overcome his emotional overload become more about my perception that the cause is trivial than about what he needs in the reality of his current perception. My comments are shorter, more clipped, irritation seeping then spilling in. My adrenaline is flowing; I’m starting to feel frustrated and even angry. And as it’s happening, I feel I should be better but just can’t bring myself to it. Like him.

So how many hands to I have? Because on another hand, I ask myself how he will learn not to make mountains out of molehills if I indulge his every tantrum with added loving attention. Will being unwaveringly patient and loving in the face of this monstrous tantrum just encourage him to act unreasonably whenever he wants to take over the agenda? Will I send the message that it’s okay to let yourself lose control of your emotional state just because it’s hard to work through it? Will I unwittingly teach him that it’s someone else’s responsibility to calm you down instead of your own responsibility to come to terms with what you’re experiencing?

How do I teach him loving limits without limiting his ability to feel through his emotions?