Anger and a Surprising Motivation

This morning, my child #3 sat in the chair child #1 had previously been sitting in. #1 noticed, and immediately felt violated. She stormed over to #3. “#3! That’s my chair! Move please!”

Of course, #3 didn’t.

So #1 sat on it and tried pushing her off. Lots of screaming and yelling and “I was here first,” and “You got off,” and “It’s my chair,” stuff. Finally, I interrupted and said, “#1, come here.” (Don’t worry. I don’t really call my kids by numbers.)

PROBLEM: My oldest daughter was angry that her sister took her chair.

#1 stomped over to me, explosive and angry. She was clearly in back brain, not ready to think logically about her choices and actions and consequences. Nor was she ready to problem solve to get what she wanted.

I was in the kitchen making breakfast, so she wedged her way into the pantry and tried shutting the door while I talked to her.

“#1, what do you need to do to restore your force field?” I asked her. This may sound like a crazy question to ask, but she’s read my picture books about emotions as messengers. She knows the language “force field” as a term for boundaries. She knows anger means her boundary, or “force field,” has been violated. She had the foundational knowledge; she just needed to find out what the message was that her anger was giving her.

“I don’t know!” she yelled through the door.

“#1, your boundary has been violated. What can you do to restore it?” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said again.

“Okay. Then go inside yourself and ask. Go right to the center of yourself—that space in there—” I pointed to my heart, “and ask what you need to do to restore it.”

She didn’t want to listen so I tried a different approach. “A few nights ago, I was helping Dad do this. He said he didn’t know what it looked like. I told him it could look like anything. Then he said he saw himself with a backpack and hiking boots for hiking to his center to find answers.” I paused. She had a crusty scowl on her face. She seemed more focused on contorting her face at child #3 than she was on my story.

That’s when I got impatient. Wasn’t this perfect plan of asking “What do you need to restore your force field?” supposed to work every time?

I snapped at her and asked if scowling at #3 made her feel better. She said no. I asked her if she wanted to be mad and miserable. Again, she said no. So I repeated, “Please, go inside yourself and find out what you need to do to feel better.”

She was still hesitant, so I took another approach: “#1, I am writing a blog about emotions. Please do this so I can write about it.”

For some reason, that did it. She got quiet, and in those moments, I could tell, she was going inside herself and asking. Then she looked at me and said, “I need to ask nicely.”

Now this may seem like a rote answer. One she’s heard plenty of times before. But in this moment, I could tell–it really was the answer to restoring what needed to be restored.

“Okay. Thank you,” I said. I went back to making breakfast, watching her through the corner of my eye. She still wanted to be stubborn and not ask #3 nicely, but by this time, #3 was bored of sitting in the chair and she had left on her own free will. #1 walked around the pantry and bar, and sat down in the coveted chair.

“If you don’t follow the answer, it won’t get easier to hear the messages,” I said.

She looked at #3 across the room and said in a surprisingly, genuine nice tone, “#3, can I sit here please?”

#3, indifferent now, said, “Sure.”

#1 said thanks, and miraculously, was back to her cheery self. It was as if nothing had even happened.

SOLUTION: Child #1 needed to recognize what he anger was telling her, and then act on it.

Ten minutes later, they were both outside on the swings, flying back and forth, working to get in sync with each other, laughing. It was a good sight.


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