Greysen loves to play at the park. She slides, she swings, she walks about, sometimes not doing much more than watching other children. Leaving this playscape no matter the length of stay always comes way too soon for her.
The later we leave, the closer to her midday rest we get. Leaving the park does not always end in tantrums, but it often culminates in irritated body language and uncooperative verbal responses. She often reacts, loudly and spiritedly, as she does when she is happy.
When she has strong emotions, I aim to react as she needs me to. Shared joy elicits laughs, naturally. Squeals and protests mean I need to focus, stay calm, and be flexible. Depending on the volume of her intensity, I know that I can get flustered and self-aware. I try my best to tune all else out so I can respond as I need to, but I have read the verdicts on onlookers’ expressions and have received comments here and there about her reactions, and it can be tough.
When these emotions start to rise within me, I often can not remember any strategies, tips, or even to be reflective to any degree. When I look into her tear-filled eyes, I can refocus myself with one question: “Where is the dignity in this?” While I have developed the ability to remain calm and keep my cool when I feel otherwise, Greysen has yet to be able to manage her emotions to that degree.
I can not prevent her intense reactions of disappointment or frustration, nor would I want to. I can treat the situation and her feelings with the dignity a human being deserves when they care so intensely and passionately about something.
Our reaction can qualify the experience. A tantruming child can be supported or dismissed.
I try to carry a sense of dignity for the both of us by the way I respond to her strong emotions. Standing side-by-side with her as she processes these emotions will, I hope, help her know that these feelings are okay to have and, in time, as she begins to understand them and knows herself well enough, she will react differently as a result.
There is no secret answer here. When I walk away with her from the playground when she’s upset, I know in our recovery whether or not I afforded her the dignity she deserves or whether I was dismissive toward her. Dignity is not in the act of our children acting obediently, but rather how we respond in earnest.