Monday, September 6, 2010

Calming the Raging Storm Part 2

A few weeks ago, I figured it out! I knew that feeling overwhelmed and disconnected were the main triggers for her to rage that way. Other things like being tired or hungry definitely exasperated it, but were never the main cause. I have struggled so much over the last few years to work on my own feelings of anger surrounding her anger. I am finally in a place where I can usually stop taking things personally and focus on helping her, instead of using all my energy to keep my cool.

One of the things that has helped me with her the most is *seeing past her behavior and recognizing the underlying needs.* I thought I understood it, but I now get it at a whole new level. I forget what she was raging over that day (again something with her sister), but as soon as she started I thought this time don't try to DO things to calm her down. She's feeling disconnected, so CONNECT. I had noticed that she never looks at me when she's raging, so as gently as I could while stopping her from going after her sister's stuff, I put my hand on the side of her face and said in a real quite voice "Look at me, E, look at me."

I don't like restraining her, but I held her like a baby on my lap, keeping her from kicking and hitting me and starting say things like "It's ok, you're ok, you're safe, I know you're overwhelmed, just sit with me, I'll just hold you, I'll cuddle you." I spoke very softly and made shushing sounds, like she was a crying infant instead of a raging 4 year old. She screamed that she wanted to go to her room, so I immediately let her go. Of course, she went straight after her sister again, which I knew she would, but I wanted her to know that I really didn't *want* to restrain her and I would let her go if I could still keep L safe. Before she got to L, I put my arms around her again, letting her know that I wouldn't let her get to L, and started gently talking to her again. I used slow, comforting words.

She has always liked back rubs and almost every night I massage her back and arms and legs before she falls asleep. So, as much as I could while restraining her, I did that and let her know that was what I was trying to do. She screamed to go to her room or go get something to eat a few times and every time I would let her go, but then get her again when she went towards her sister.

Finally, I let her go and she didn't get off my lap. She collapsed into me and started to cry and released all the stress and tension and feelings of being overwhelmed. She cuddled into me and asked me to rub her back so I did. Then we sat on the couch and snuggled for a long time.

Typing it out seems like it lasted a long time, but really it was about 5 minutes from the time she started to the point where she stopped fighting and started crying. As much as I dislike restraining her, 5 minutes was worlds better than up to half an hour of fighting, getting hurt and eventually collapsing and crying.

In the last few weeks, this has happened a few more times and the last time, she seemed relieved as soon as I picked her up. She still fought me for a minute, but it was more like needing a physical outlet instead of desperation to get away or get what she wanted.

If you've read my other posts, you know that this is a complete 180 from the way I handled any emotional outburst from her a few years ago. It's taken that long for me to heal enough to be able to figure out how to help her. From her perspective, she is probably always unsure of how I am going to react, which exasperates her fight or flight response. My reactions have gotten better and better, but I have still made plenty of recent mistakes. I think now it's more important than ever that I respond consistently in a comforting, calm and reassuring way, so I don't lose the ground I've gained with her trusting that I'm here to be the safe place during her storm. And of course, it's better if I can help her avoid getting that overwhelmed and disconnected in the first place.


  1. This SO reminds me of Linus. I know you probably won't agree but I'd recommend reading Holding Time. While it is much like what you did it applies more restraint but I think you would appreciate the information in it even if you don't approve of the practice. It might clarify why that tends to work. I did holding time with Linus for 2 hours the first time and continued holding time for 3 months when he would rage. I would hold him like an infant ( he was 12 months size at 2.5 any way), usually wrapped in a blanket like a baby to help me keep him from kicking me and pinching/biting me. He use to bang his head so hard on tile floors because he only felt anger. The holding time taught him how to be calmed and be loved. It was like going back to when he was a newborn and giving him that which he didn't get. It was ruff and I say it wasn't fun to watch him be restrained and hav ea hard time but I know he would not be thecuddly loving boy now if he did not have that. Now Patrick is different, that didn't work with him but made things worse because he would just check out. We are still working to find what will help him. I wonder if E doesn't harbor some feelings against you for working during her infancy, not to pick on or judge you but my reading is in regards to that sort of thing. She sees you home now with L and even though she may not fully understand her emotions probably realize that L may be more attached to you than E is. Just putting some ideas out there... I thank you for sharing though. Its good to know that I'm not alone in similar struggles. Another book you may enjoy is The Connected Child, adoption focused but good for all families, suggested to us by our social worker for Patrick's issues. I'm only half way through but it was good enough to buy it! Keep up the hard work girl!

  2. I enjoy these parenting posts so much. Thank you for being brave, introspective, and thoughtful enough to share these learning experiences.

  3. Ceanne, yes I'm sure E's problems stem from her infancy. A combination of her personality, the c-section, not taking a bottle and so being hungry a lot while I worked, and in pain from colic. As she became a toddler, she really needed to work through all her emotions from that and heal from it and that's where I really failed her by not being supportive and helpful. So here we are.

    I probably post too much about all these kinds of issues and not enough about the signs of healing (in fact, I think that will be my next post!) She really is a happy, sweet, thoughtful, mature, considerate little girl. The process of working through all these difficulties have really strengthened our relationship, and we're building a foundation of trust.

    I think she will always be a challenge to parent, just because of her strong personality and because we are so much alike. But there has been nothing in the world that has helped me grow so much as a person as learning to parent her.

    Thanks Annalise! I hope my experiences can be encouraging to others that it is possible to raise a spirited, challenging child without punishments or behavior modification.

  4. Oh and Ceanne, I have Holding Time on my reading list, but there are SO many books. I'm sure I'll get to it one of these days.