Anatomy of a Meltdown

I am angry!

When things completely melt down between me and my son, I am often left to wonder what the real problem is here.  I am the adult, and as such, I am capable of some pretty powerful manipulation of my five-year-old son’s emotions.  Usually, I can use that power for good, and sometimes for something else.

This morning was hair day.  My husband needed to plot our African-American daughter in front of the television for about two hours to braid her hair.  This means that by extension, our son gets to watch more than his fill of television too.  About 90 minutes in, one episode of Johnny-Test-Ninjago-Batman-Clubhouse ended and the argument began about who got to pick the next show.  Since our daughter is the one that has to endure the tugging and pulling of her hair for several hours, she typically gets to select her the anesthetizing visual drug.  Our son was not interested in this methodology though, and before he had a total meltdown, my husband told him he could pick the next show while he attached our daughter’s beads to her braids.

Twenty minutes later, he was done with her hair completely, and so at the end of the current episode, I turned the television off.  Now I’m a smart man, and I knew what would likely happen if I did this, but I supposed I just needed to test my sense of reality.  My son could barely get the words, “But Daddy…” out before he threw himself on the floor in hysterics.  I asked him to calm down so we could talk this through, but he couldn’t do it.  When he throws tantrums like this, my husband I usually try to acknowledge how he feels, validate his feelings, and let him know that he’s welcome to continue to express those feelings up in his room.  We try to walk that fine line between “Crying is okay” and “You can’t throw a fit every time you don’t get what you want.”  We invited him to continue to cry in the other room, and on the way, he threw a chair to the ground.  According to my new theories on parenting, I calmly told him, “Now you can go up to your room.”  He stormed off as loudly as he could, sounding much more powerful than his barely three and a half foot body could possibly manage.

“He was upset about picking the TV show, you know.”

“I know.  If you knew you were only 20 minutes away from finishing hair though, you shouldn’t have told him he could pick the next show though.”

Who was I fighting with now?  Why was I picking a fight here?  Luckily, my husband didn’t take the bait.

“So that was my fault, but maybe we could have handled it differently.”

A few minutes later, our daughter headed upstairs herself, followed by shrieks and screams.  She came running back downstairs complaining that her brother had gone into her room and stolen her Lego Batman plane.  He came quickly behind her, attempting to look sheepish but only managing impish malice.

“Did you take go into your sister’s room and take her toy?”

He immediately fell to his knees, ululating as if agony.  “Why does everyone want to talk to me right now?  I just want to be alone!”

We ushered our daughter back up to her room, and attempted to calm our son down.

“I just want to be alone,” he screamed.  “Don’t you know what alone means?  If you don’t know, you should just ask.”  Remember, he’s yelling this at the top of his lungs, tears streaming out of his eyes.  It was adorable, so I started to laugh.  This didn’t validate his feelings in the way he hoped, and he started to storm out of the room.

“Come back here so we can talk,” my husband and I urged.  “I’m going to count to three,” I continued calmly, “and if you don’t come back, I’m going go come get you.”  This brought him reluctantly back into the room.

“I just want to be alone,” he repeated.

“You can be alone after we know you’ve calmed down and we’ve talked about what happened.”

My husband tried first, holding him close.  “Your breath smells like coffee,” our son cried.  “I’m going to throw up.”  My turn.

The source of tremendous angst.

He sat on my lap, repeatedly telling me how he wanted be alone.  Eventually, he started ranting about a scene at Target a few weeks ago where the four of us split into faction so that the kids could buy Christmas presents for one another.  I valiantly took our son and embarked on a nightmare spree of “No, that’s something that you want.  You need to think about what your sister wants” before he finally settled on the Batman Lego kit in question this morning.  Apparently, he felt some right to the toy because he had chosen it for his sister and given it to her.  He wasn’t really ready to talk rationally though, and every time I asked a question or suggested something, he simply contradicted me.  After constantly being told no again and again, I stood up, deposited him on the sofa next to my husband, and walked out of the room.  My son bid me farewell by screaming, “NO!  N-O spells NO!”

I retired to the other room while my husband calmed him down.  About twenty minutes later, the three of us were able to sit and talk about the events that had transpired, including using my example of getting up and walking out of the room as a time when I was feeling so frustrated I might start yelling at the people I loved.  We explained to him that one of the hardest parts of growing up is controlling your emotions, and knowing that even when we feel really angry inside, we can’t take it out on the people we love.

In the end, it turned out okay thanks to a lot of time, effort, and two parents tag teaming duties.  I’m sure most of this could have been avoided with me simply having this talk with my son before I turned the damn television off, but I think it all ended up being a good lesson for him and for me.

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