One of my daughters threw a temper tantrum today. It was really the start of what we call, a Rage Tantrum. It deserves the capital letters, because they are not like typical tantrums. Also, she is 10. A little older than most kids who throw this kind of tantrum. But our dear one has a little bit of a traumatic background and as a result sometimes emotions that other kids her age might be able to handle a little more smoothly, or at least in a quieter way, just become too much for her to handle.
We haven’t had one of these in a while. And this was not the worst one I’ve ever seen…no where close. In the not so distant past, her tantrums have lasted hours. We’ve had to call the EMT’s on 2 occasions because we were afraid she would hurt herself.
This time was different. Everything started out the same. I requested that she do something. She refused. I told her the consequences if she did not make the right choice. She still refused. I gave her the consequence and then it was all out war. She finally stomped up to her room, screaming at me, and destroying things on the way there. But she was contained.
This time though, as I sat down on the couch listening to her scream and yell and throw things, I was reminded of an article I had read recently describing just such a tantrum cycle that another foster/adoptive mamma goes through with her dear one. It reminded me of the reasons she was reacting the way she was, and I decided to do something different.
I quietly walked up to her room and sat on her floor. I asked her in a calm voice to come sit with me. I said, “honey, what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working, so let’s try something new. come sit with me please.” I had to ask a few times, but she eventually came down. And when she did, I asked her if I could put my arms around her.
And then I sat with her for 5 minutes, with my arms around my 10 year old as she cried angry, angry tears.
I helped her calm her breathing. And I named for her what I thought she might be feeling.
We are a family in the middle of a lot of transition: we are preparing to move in 2 months. I have mostly finished my job at the church, so we’re not attending there anymore. Our foster baby is going on her first overnight visit with her bio-mom and soon will transition out of our home. And when we move, we will be almost 4 hours away from their oldest sister. All of that is a lot for my kids to handle, especially when you add in their background. I said, “Do you think maybe you’re feeling a lot of things lately about the move and it comes out in some not so good ways?”
Now, before you start judging too quickly, she still had a consequence. Her behavior and language towards me were not acceptable. But instead of punishing her for everything she screamed and instead of yelling back at her and throwing the proverbial book at her, this time I was able to step back and remember that her fragile heart is just not yet ready to handle all of the enormous emotions being thrown around right now. So I sat and held her.
And as I did so, I pictured God holding me in all of the moments in my life when I act exactly like that towards God. When I yell and scream and stomp my feet because of what’s going on in the world, or because the circumstances in my life don’t feel fair. And I thought, “if God can do that for me, I can do that for her.”
I sat with my arms around her, and I gave thanks for the many lessons parenting kids with trauma backgrounds has taught me about myself, about love, and about God. I gave thanks for the moments when I get it right, and thanks for the grace God gives me when I get it very, very wrong.