Have you ever seen those parents in the grocery store with the screaming child? Are you the parent of that screaming child? Maybe worse, have you ever felt like the kid in full melt-down mode in your heart– just barely holding it together in public because adults don’t behave like that–or do we?
The grocery store incidents are less common now because delivery and pick up have become some of the most useful services for parents with a less than cooperative child. But, it still happens.
One of the most infuriating things a parent can do in these situations is pacify the child with what he or she wants. You are literally conditioning him or her to act terribly to get what he or she wants. I have had a middle school student who did just that. It apparently can work for a long, long time. What should the parent do? Well, obviously stick by the “no” and keep those boundaries. But, wait……. have you ever worked with an autistic child? Sometimes the obvious solution literally doesn’t work. It doesn’t teach them anything and becomes an impossible situation for everyone.
In a completely lose/lose situation from the get go, parents can ignore it, and have the other customers irritated that the noise is not removed. They can “give in” by doing what they know will satisfy or silence the child and be not only judged by others as a terrible, wimpy parent causing all the problems with youth today, but also judging themselves and feeling like a terrible parent. Or they can go home without what they needed and give up on why they braved being in public in the first place. Being in a regularly judged and miserably unfun situation often is the price you pay for loving a child, especially a difficult or traumatized one.
If it were just toddlers who lost it and became unreasonable, we would not have these problems. The solutions, although taxing, are obvious. Pick the kid up and force them to do what is best or necessary. Take them home. Feed them; hug them; nap them, or ignore a fit at home. But life is never that simple, and we humans are not so different from our little ones.
The short answer is that you can’t. It is not possible to reason with an unreasonable person. Unreasonable people of any age are, by definition, not able to reason at that time. Emotions have apparently gotten the best of their thinking ability. We all have survival fight, flight and freeze responses that interrupt logical thinking at times.
But there is a lot of hope. As a mother, teacher and teacher’s helper, I have had a lot of experience with humans in melt-down mode including those with special needs. Knowing how to identify what will help and not giving in to fear or hopelessness can be so helpful. You don’t have to be a victim even if you do not enjoy what you must pass through while loving an unreasonable person.
The first step is to realize that you will not overcome irrational behavior with reasoning. However, you will start to handle it well by staying reasonable and calm yourself. Like putting on gloves and surveying the scene first in an emergency situation, take a deep breath and know that you can deal with this without joining this person on their emotional ride. You will be better able to help them calm down and deal with their upset if you see their struggle as theirs and stay firmly grounded.
As a young mother, I was very reactive. Every time my son threw a fit, I got very upset myself. Of course I didn’t like it. Of course my mirror neurons were firing and making me empathize and feel his upset or pain. A therapist once told me that children are very good at making you feel what they feel. I didn’t know that. He said, “think how you are feeling, that might be exactly how he was feeling.” I was feeling upset, afraid, and out of control of the situation. That matched what he was probably feeling as well.
I remember the first time I held him firmly in a rocking chair at church, meant for nursing mothers, while he kicked and screamed. He was getting too old for this behavior, and it wasn’t improving. I didn’t understand why he wasn’t growing up. I tested my ability to stay calm and rocked him while he threw a fit. I gently told him, “You can’t make me not love you.” This set me free. I saw that nothing he could do could force me to abandon him or not care. He could not upset me unless I let him. I felt this great love and freedom explode in me as I endured his nasty behavior until it ended in a crying embrace. The calm after the storm was wonderful and bonding. I was emotionally available for that because I had not become upset myself. It was wonderful.
“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.” –Leonardo da Vinci
So, I challenge you to find the power within yourself however you can to not go on that ride. Have compassion on yourself without pity. You are doing the best you can, but you are not a victim. You are choosing this. There is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow even if in the future there will be many more storms.