Fostering has a way of showing you exactly how human we are. How imperfect. It humbles you.
As part of our continuing education hours for our licensing requirements I signed up for class on Emotion Coaching. After months and months of tantrums I was desperate to hear how I could coach them through their emotions. How do I help them work through the tantrums?
I will be honest and tell you now I don’t recall a whole lot from the class expect for one thing.
As I discussed different “techniques” I had tried, the instructor asked me this “What do you do when you’re overwhelmed or upset?” I thought about it for two seconds and said “Well I take a break, I go cool off or I talk it out with a close friend.” He then listed ways that he does. Or his wife. Or his children. As he listed different ways it became very clear that my way wasn’t the only way. What works for me, doesn’t work for them.
I felt so humbled as I realized how I had been trying to impose “my way” on these girls when they became overwhelmed or upset. How often had I told them that they need to take a break, to remove themselves from the situation and calm down? I felt foolish. Why did I assume it worked for me and this was a great way for everyone? It was the ultimate epiphany for me. The instructor was kind enough to list other options instead of “cool off time”. For example coloring, giving them playdough or clay, reading a book, time-in’s, exercise like jumping on a trampoline, etc.
It instantly brought to my mind one particularly tough day. This tantrum had been going on for over 30 minutes with no end in sight. Time out wasn’t working and the level of hysteria was climbing. As she screamed at me from the time out spot I wondered why she wasn’t calming down yet. She kept removing herself from the spot. To which I redirected her back. Over and over and over again. The screaming continued to increase. The tears coming faster. The fury of emotion was leaving her little face distorted. She was panting and having a hard time catching her breath. I told her with an even tone, when you calm down, the time will start and then you’ll be able to get out of the time out spot. In stuttering sobs she responded she didn’t know how to, she couldn’t calm down. Then she asked me, “can I just have a hug?” I said sure. She came into my arms and I hugged her tight as the tears continued to flow. Soaking into my shirt. She continued to sob that she just couldn’t stop crying. She wanted to calm down so the time could start but she couldn’t calm down, she didn’t know how. After a few moments of thinking I said ok let’s do this. I want you to take a big long slow breath and we are going to count to 20. After each number take a long slow breath. By the time we reached 20 her sobs had slowed to small gulps. I said now lets continue to 100 and I’ll start the timer now that your calm. I walked her back to the time out spot, still counting at a turtle speed. Then instead of retreating away, I sat maybe 5 feet away from her and continued to count. By the time we got to 100 she was calm, the tears had dried and time out was over.
Originally I had seen a child who was having a tantrum and needed me to remove her from the situation. Unconsciously I thought time out worked for me, it should for her. Unconsciously she had shown me what she really needed. Connection and comfort. She needed a hug and for me to use my calm to help her calm down.