Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Losing It, Part I. Other People's Children

People always tell me how calm or mellow I seem. I do have a pretty long range of patience, which makes child care a nice fit for me. So when I shouted in the face of the six-year-old girl I was watching last week, I did everything but blame myself. If I lost it, I must have been really provoked.

The notion that adults must be icy-cool in even the most infuriating situation is, to me, unfathomable. Getting angry is a gut reaction, a primal instinct probably stemming from a need for self-preservation or protecting one's kin. This was certainly how I felt. You see, this girl (I'll call her Katie) decided to lock me in the garage when I went to get something from the car. At that same moment, I heard my two-year-old crying on the other side of the door. Then I heard Katie walking upstairs. From deep within me, came a shout, "KATIE GET DOWN HERE AND OPEN THIS DOOR RIGHT NOW!" When she did, I shouted at her, asking if she thought it was funny to lock me out when my little boy was crying. Her eyes were the size of baseballs. She turned completely white and ran up the stairs. She wouldn't speak to me the rest of the time she was at my house. Of course, I told her mom what happened and we talked about it. I wasn't really worried about it. I felt justified.

At the same time, I would never condone violence against a child, no matter what they have done. That includes spanking. I tried it on my daughter once and always regretted it. (For a discussion of spanking, click here). I do think a little ten-second shout of frustration can be just the wake-up call the child needs. In this particular case, Katie had been testing my boundaries for days, seeing if she could just ignore me and my rules. I gently guided her, so she thought I was a pushover. People have made this mistake before. Sometimes I get the opportunity to correct that assumption and sometimes I don't.

In my experience, school-age children will often test the limits of a care-giver or authority, especially at around two weeks into the relationship. They do something they know they shouldn't, something that any other caregiver or teacher would punish, to see what will happen. When I recognize this situation, I let loose, just for a few seconds, to let the kid know they've crossed the line. It always works. To see a normally calm, nice person flip out at you is a shock. Like a pacemaker to the heart, it gets everything back in line, where it should be, especially when it is followed with reconciliation.

The reconciliation is key. After I calm down, I talk to the child about what happened, why I was upset, and what they should have done. We hug or high-five, and go on about our day. I can say, Yep, I lost it, and they can see why. And we go forward from there.