When my daughter was around 3, she had her first hissy fit over some perceived slight. It could have been over something silly like that I didn’t take her to gran’s house after a playdate or didn’t stop for ice cream, I don’t remember why.
She stormed into the dining room and threw herself onto the floor, kicking and screaming, bawling her eyes out. The noise was deafening and unexpected. I had never seen someone lose their shit to this magnitude before, least of all a sweet little person I loved to bits. I was completely perplexed.
My visceral reaction to having someone go batshit crazy on me is instantaneous anger. I can go from 0 – 100 faster than you can say “Lamborghini”. Luckily for all concerned, I did the unexpected. I took my anger to the kitchen and made a cup of tea. Then I stepped over the body that was writhing on the floor, with not so much as a glance, and continued to my room.
I gently closed the door behind me, set my cup carefully down on the bedside table with shaking hands, picked up a book and tried to concentrate on the words swimming in front of my tear filled eyes. I felt that I had failed somehow. What had I done that could make her react so horribly? Why was she so angry at me and why did I feel angry at her?
After what felt like hours but was only minutes, I heard a timid knock on my bedroom door. I answered “Come in,” and there stood a red-faced, tear–streaked, snotty-nosed piece of my heart that lives outside of my body. It stood there looking confused momentarily and without another glance, I suggested this little person should give her hands and face a good scrub and then return. I was buying time because I still didn’t know what my response should be but I knew it shouldn’t be anger.
A few minutes later, a freshly scrubbed child stood shyly next to my bed and I smiled at her and patted the pillow next to me and asked if she would like to get in. She was in the bed like a flash and I offered her a sip of my tea – after all, I assumed wailing banshees must get pretty thirsty.
I pretended to read my book as she took small, noisy slurps of tea in between the hiccups she had managed to get from crying. Then I turned to her and asked softly, “Are you done shouting now?” to which she had the temerity to look embarrassed and replied softly back, “Yes.” And then I explained to her how she had more words in her vocabulary than most children her age, that she was a very clever little so-and-so who had no problem articulating clearly in English, much to the surprise of many when she won a speech contest at the same age, and choosing to scream at me was counterproductive because I didn’t speak wail.
My daughter is almost a teenager now and over the years, I have had post-it notes, letters, emails and even what’s app texts from the other room but I have never had a knock-down screaming tantrum again.
My children have learned In Case Of Emergency, make tea. Bad grade? Failed a test you were reminded to study for and didn’t? Note from a teacher? In trouble with Dad? Tell Mom, wait for the initial incredulous outburst and then go make tea. By the time you return, Mom has devised a strategy to help you fix the problem and you can both sit down and iron it all out.
After all, who can shout over a good cup of tea?