Whilst waiting for our flight home, our eldest Kaia was in a very difficult mood. She was short-tempered and getting angry at the simplest thing. It had been building for the last 15 mins – bossing us to the gate the minute it was announced, telling us where to sit and refusing to engage in idle chat or join in with a few laughs, saying her leg and her head was hurting. It was getting fraught. By the time we were sitting in our seat, my temper was starting to rise. An allegation of favouritism led to me saying “I give up. I’m nice to you, I ask you what’s wrong – you don’t want to talk to me. I offer you calpol for your pains, you refuse. I leave you alone and I’m ignoring you. What do you want from me?” She shook her head, said “oh you just don’t get it” and turned away. I returned to my book and inwardly prayed for strength and patience…
As I glanced to my left, I noticed a single tear roll down her cheek. I put my arm round her and let her cry.
Travelling in a global pandemic is never an easy decision. We’d weighed up the risks (lower rate of the virus in our travel destination than at home), took into account that we’d lose our money if we cancelled, acknowledged that we were all desperate for a change of scene and decided to go. But that risk analysis hadn’t made it an easy thing to do. Travelling is stressful at the best of times, the lost boarding cards and constant passport checks, the security queues and scanner pat-downs are never pleasant. Add to that my early announcement that I would be nagging them to use sanitiser and not touch their faces all the time (designed to dispel the “we know!!” eye roll), the closed up shops and taped up chairs for social distancing – well the whole experience is enough to fray the nerves of a Buddhist monk.
Kaia wasn’t angry, sulky or being a hormonal tween – she was anxious.
Emotions are complex. As adults, a lifetime of sifting through them allows us to start to understand ourselves. But not always. I’ve snapped at the kids because I’m stressed or overwhelmed. I’ve lost it at my husband over a badly timed joke. On occasion a remark that would normally have me raising an eyebrow somehow triggers a red-mist rage. And it’s only afterwards that I can begin to see what might have been going on… and I do this for a living!!
Emotions aren’t as refined as words. We don’t have the range to express them in the same way. And one of the most common emotional expressions that we resort to – is anger.
In fact many kids who are labelled as having anger problems are actually extremely anxious. And this is so crucial to understand. It’s pointless trying to manage their behaviour with techniques designed to help with anger if actually they’re worried and nervous. Telling your kid to take time out alone to cool down is fine if they’re angry, but will make them feel abandoned and isolated if actually they need a hug and reassurance. Once we understand the root of the problem, we can help – but until then, anything we do will at best be nothing more than a band-aid.
And Kaia? After a hug and a chat, we realised that when she is that anxious, she can’t always articulate it. So we agreed that in future, she would just take my hand and squeeze it – just so I would know. Because sometimes, where emotions are concerned, words aren’t helpful and just knowing that your loved one is there and has your back, is far more healing.
To find out more about the emotions that sit under the surface, you can watch our Anger iceberg video.
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