Written on June 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
Recently, I was sitting on my 12-year-old son, Elijah’s, bed. The lights were out and he was under the covers—as in he’d pulled the covers up over his face.
Me: Honey, it’s ok to say that you’re frustrated and upset.
Elijah: I’m fine, grabbing his pillow and putting it on top of his face.
Me: You can’t bottle up your feelings. It’s like you’re covering up a volcano. Sooner or later it’s going to explode and that feels even worse.
Elijah: Mom, please I just want to go to bed.
Me: Ok…just think about it. I love you.
This conversation occurred about two hours after Elijah had not listened to me or his dad and accidently dropped a 60-pound bag of concrete on our lawn at the exact time our automatic sprinkler system came on. And remember wet concrete very quickly becomes hardened concrete. In his defense, as a somewhat recent transplant from Washington, D.C., none of us have ever lived in a house with:
1. a backyard and
2. a sprinkler system
So it was understandable that he didn’t think about it when he ignored our warning to not leave the bag on the grass. Except for the part about ignoring us.
This incident also occurred a few days after another very unfortunate event inside the house. Elijah wanted to show me that he could flip a can of spray paint in the air. When he caught it, the little nozzle came off and red paint started spraying everywhere: the walls, the floor, the sink, the faucet. The goods news is that Murphy’s Oil Soap took off all the paint—but not without me expressing my frustration and anger.
Teaching our children that it’s healthy to express these feelings is one of the most important responsibilities we have as parents. But it’s not easy because very few of us are taught how to deal with these messy emotions well. That’s the thing about families. They give us endless opportunities to practice expressing healthy ways to be angry and encouraging it in our children.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t sit down with Elijah in a calm, kind voice and tell him how “concerned” I was about the paint and how I really “hoped” he’d be more thoughtful next time. No, I fumed. I did my angry sigh—the thing both my boys know is the sign that I am making every effort not to completely lose it.
But back to the concrete: As Elijah went through the usual phases of denial and blame (on his brother and the neighbor’s dog), he tried to clean up the mess…by tracking even more of the concrete throughout our house. At this point, my husband was yelling, Elijah was sulking and I wanted to run away.
Thirty minutes later, with everyone in a terrible mood and hating each other, Elijah went into his room. And there I was still feeling angry. I mean, really. How many times do I have to tell my boys to listen to me when there’s a real possibility of them damaging someone or something?
Sitting on Elijah’s bed, I knew that if I said anything more, I’d just irritate him. But I also knew that he was really upset about how angry his dad was with him. Elijah had done something wrong, without a doubt, but at the same time he was really hurting. So what do you do in that moment?
I walked out of his room and asked my husband to go in there and tell Elijah he loved him. Of course he wasn’t feeling very loving at the moment, but that father-son connection is intense and sometimes the best thing about having a spouse is they can remind you of the larger picture. He does it for me all the time. James got up and walked into Elijah’s room. I don’t know what they said. But I do know the next morning, we all felt better.
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