“Nothing’s wrong!” So says my daughter’s voice, but her body language betrays her. Something about the glaring, stomping, creased-forehead, teary look tips me off.
Rapid meltdowns are nothing new for this child. Like many children who spent early childhood in an orphanage, her emotional development lags behind kids who spent those years in a nurturing family.
To move her along on the scale of emotional stability, I ask a series of four questions to guide her in managing those out-of-control feelings. As I tell her, “You control your emotions; they don’t control you.”
Question 1: What are you feeling?
We start here because my daughter often can’t identify the emotion; she just lets it fly! So I give her some choices: angry? frustrated? disappointed? sad? misunderstood? afraid?
Question 2: What caused you to feel this way?
We are careful not to let this become an opportunity for blame or excuses, but rather a simple matter-of-fact description of the event(s) leading to the meltdown. For example, “It was raining and my softball game was cancelled.”
Or, “Dad took the boys to a movie but not me.”
Or, “My homework was really hard and I didn’t know how to do it.”
I am very aware that questions and concerns related to her adoption and orphanage experiences may be simmering beneath the surface, so I try to listen for clues to deeper issues she may not be able to articulate.
Question 3: What is the truth about this situation?
For the above examples, we might arrive at, “The rain is out of my control, and it’s okay to be disappointed.”
“Dad and the boys went to a movie, but he played games with me last night.”
Or, “Part of learning is trying harder questions. School helps me learn new things.”
A little objectivity can really help reign in overboard reactions.
Question 4: What is a good response to this situation?
Finally we address the degree of her reaction.
“It’s okay to be disappointed, but crying for 45 minutes because the game was postponed is probably too much. Let’s take a little time to be sad, then plan something else to do.”
Or, “Instead of being jealous of Dad’s time with your brothers, let’s have a special mother-daughter time.”
And instead of taking homework frustration out on the family, “How about taking a break and then asking Mom, Dad, or an older sibling for help?”
Note there are certainly life events that merit significant emotional responses, and as parents, we should recognize rather than minimize those times for our children: loss of a loved one, pain of betrayal, illness or injury, compassion for hurting people, etc.
Ultimately we want to get to this point: No matter what my feelings, I can trust God because He is faithful. He loves me, and He never changes. I will hang onto this truth regardless of my emotions. I will choose to trust and praise Him.
Just like David in the Psalms when he questioned his emotions: Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him… (Psalm 43:5).
The biggest bonus from this process? Not only has my daughter’s ability to manage her emotions improved, but now I also use these questions to evaluate my own feelings when they threaten to throw this mom off track!