My daughter is seven. She’s a tiny perfectionist, brimming with plans for the whole world.
When those plans don’t work, or worse, when someone like her brother or her parents impede them, it’s painful for her. Like a tiny tsunami, crashing waves of sadness and anger rush out of her, overwhelming whatever conversation has been going on.
In these moments when it seems like she loses herself I often will interrupt. I used to tell her to be quiet or to go to her room. Probably that means I’m out of the running for most compassionate father.
But then I began to feel like I was communicating that her emotions weren’t OK. That’s not a message I want to give her, so I’ve been trying different things.
A few months ago, we had an unexpected conversation. She was ramping up in the middle of big stomping frustration, when I tapped her gently on her forehead. I asked her, “Hey, what’s in here?” A little bit confused, she paused and answered, “My brain.”
“Who is in charge of your brain?” I asked. She tilted her head and looked at me. After a pause she answered, “I am.”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s good. So what are you doing with your brain right now?” She didn’t have an answer, so I asked her, “How about you and your brain take a moment to explain to me how you’re feeling, and then maybe you and I can use our brains to come up with a solution to this problem.”
And we were off. The tantrum’s energy dissipated and shortly we were having a constructive conversation. I’ve been thinking a lot about this interaction. Not just about my daughter, but about how I relate to her.