The other day, Laurel was as angry as I have ever seen her. It’s always good to examine big situations after the fact; perhaps I’ll improve in responding biblically.
She was happily playing and asked for a particular song to be put on, and when I put it on, she changed her mind and demanded that I put on something different. I declined. I was in the middle of reading a book with the other two children and hoped to be able to finish the story.
I tried ignoring her mild complaining, since she was acting somewhat tired, even though it was only midmorning. She got louder.
Then I put down the book and picked her up to deal with her in her room without distraction. She pushed away and got more angry.
Normally she’ll stop crying if I ask her a question. When I asked what the problem was, she kept repeating that she wants different music. She kept arching her back, and I wouldn’t let her. That made her more mad. She started to kick. I told her to stop kicking or I would spank her. Of course, she stuck her lip out and started kicking more and I spanked her. After that if she started to kick, I would say no, and she would stop. I feel pretty strongly that repeated spankings are not helpful or necessary, but I start to doubt myself in these types of situations.
She started saying, “I don’t like you” over and over. It’s the worst thing she can think of right now. But I didn’t discipline for it, I think because it seemed like she wasn’t being disrespectful as much as saying she wasn’t happy. I dunno. I responded each time by telling her “I love you. I love you so much that I will not allow you to… throw a tantrum. I had a hard time identifying what I wasn’t going to allow. This is actually funny to me now, since technically, she is throwing a tantrum and I couldn’t stop it. I still think it was the right thing to say, but maybe there’s something better.)
I had David get me a cup of water. At some point, I’ve found that the momentum of a tantrum can be stopped easily if they drink something. If they take the time to drink it, they often forget why they were crying, or realize they don’t want to be miserable and angry.
The second time I offered water, she took it and drank. Then she told me she was hungry. I told her she could eat when she chose to stop being angry and started being sweet and respectful.She said she would. Whew!
I helped her to ask forgiveness for disobeying, for kicking, and for saying unkind words. She did (repeating each phrase after me). Then I told her I forgave her and loved her, and she told me that she loved me too. And she gave me a hug.
Now I’m asking myself some questions. This is good for me. (If I hadn’t taken the time to think it through, I would probably have put it behind me quickly, and that’s wouldn’t be good for her or me.)
- Should I have “preached” some? I didn’t say much about God or the gospel. That’s something I would probably do differently, but I’m not sure how. After the fact, she was pretty tired, and I started to talk, but decided against it. I could bring it up again, since it was a significant enough event that I think she will remember it. I think she’s old enough to talk about it after the fact. In fact, in the few days since this incident we’ve had several discussions about anger and complaining and thankfulness.
- Did I wait too long to deal with it? I think this is significant. I started out ignoring her complaining, but it’s possible that I really allowed her anger to escalate instead of stopping it before it got out of hand. That doesn’t help her or me. I don’t have the answer for this, but I noticed in the few days since this incident I’ve been quicker to stop the complaining and that’s worked better.
- Should I have left her alone to cry it out, or was it right to hold her (much against her will) and physically restrain her? I think staying with her was the right thing this time. I had the time to spend (that’s not always possible), and in a way I felt like being with her was establishing my authority. (She ordered me to leave; perhaps I would have left had she not done so.)
- What exactly am I disciplining for? Anger? Saying mean things? Screaming and yelling? Kicking? Lack of self-control? Extreme complaining? I felt like I didn’t (and still haven’t) gotten precise about what I don’t want to happen. Kicking isn’t a sin, and neither is yelling. The context makes it wrong, so I want to be careful that I am correctly identifying the problem/ sin.
- I notice that her anger (and I suspect this is true at other times) happened when she was somewhat excluded. I’m not saying she shouldn’t be held accountable for the anger, but I do need to recognize that I’m not always aware when she feels left out. I thought she was happily playing. She started out in my lap and left when she got bored with the book, and I probably wouldn’t do anything different. Still, I see a pattern, and that’s worth thinking about.
That’s all. Next we’ll talk about some followup discussions we’ve had since then.