When my elder daughter was very young and started to get worked up about something, it always had the potential to get pretty dramatic. She was born theatrical and emotional. She did everything with flair. She was a sunny happy child 90 % of the time, but when there was a problem, it was . . . a big deal. A little boo-boo would set her off screaming as if she were in the throes of death. When we once insisted that she actually taste a new food item before categorically rejecting it, she allowed a minuscule tidbit to touch her tongue and then immediately emptied the entire contents of her stomach right there in the kitchen. Tears streamed down her face as we said goodbye at the door of the nursery school; once we were out of sight, those tears ended as if the faucet had been turned off and my daughter ran happily off to play with the other kids. (Or so the teachers told us.)
We got used to it. We even got blasé about it. Sometimes we shocked random strangers passing by when we basically shrugged off or coolly commented on the theatrical cries of our ostensibly traumatized child.
We learned coping mechanisms.
One example: she could never sit still through a meal. She would jump up out of her chair and run out of the room. Or, she rocked her chair. She spilled things – a lot!. At first we asked her to sit still and eat. That worked . . . not. Sometimes we scolded her. Sometimes I even thought (but thankfully never said) “What is wrong with you?!”
At some point, I suddenly realized that there was nothing wrong with her. She just needed to keep moving and sitting through mealtimes was tough for her. I could either stick to the customary dinner table rules or I could accommodate her need to move. I chose the second. From that point on, I started finding ways for allowing her to get up and leave the table. I would purposely “forget” things (napkins, spoons, salt . . .) when I set the table and then ask her to get them for us during the meal. I would ask her to refill my water glass. In a pinch, I would purposely push my fork off the table and then ask her to get me a new one.
She always appreciated the chance to get off her chair – it wasn’t as if she were constantly being given chores. She was able to leave the table while doing something helpful and good, not fidgety and bad.
Away from the dinner table, in moments when she was getting herself more and more worked up, I learned to just stare at her intently. Quietly. When her eyes met mine, I would make a hint of a smile. She would look at me again, and for longer. I would spread my arms in a “Come hug me” gesture. She came. We hugged. I felt her whole body relaxing. Hissy fit averted. No words necessary.
She is almost 16 now. More words, of course, are necessary. But sometimes, the wordless hug still does the trick.
Today was one of those days.