Please give that toy back to your brother. I ask brightly, but I know what is coming. The witching hour is upon us. YOU ARE NOT BEING A KIND MUMMY, he shouts loudly. I try not to smile at this “insult.” A dramatic arm fold and harrumph follows. A stamped foot punctuates the point. I ignore it. This is not the reaction he was looking for. He pushes the baby over. It wasn’t hard but damn it, this cannot be ignored. He is officially overtired and heading for a tantrum. He needs to go home. I have left it too long, hoping to finish my cup of tea, my conversation with a friend, my moment’s peace. Silly me. Now I will pay.
I enter the “Damage Limitation Zone” going down to his level, speaking calmly, quietly, stating only the facts. In 2 minutes it will be home time. Let’s get our coats. All hell breaks loose. For some kids it would be sobbing, for others screeching, hitting. For him it is angry salty tears, cross words, a flushed face and his whole body tensed and ready to react. NO. I. DON’T. WANT. TO. GO. HOME. I.DON’T. LIKE. YOU. Said with such intense feeling. I feel exhausted watching him. HORRIBLE MUMMY. He isn’t shouting. But his voice is full of rage. 5 minutes ago he was laughing.
Tantrums. The real ones, are not about naughty steps. They are not about control and discipline and calmly managing the situation. The tantrum says, NO. I WILL NOT BE MANAGED. I will not be polite. I will not calm down. I will not do as you say. I WILL ASSERT MYSELF AND MY WILL. YOU WILL HEAR ME. I will not go to the supermarket nicely. I will not leave my friend’s house when I am having a lovely play. I will not be kind to my baby brother who keeps taking all my toys. And I do NOT want to go to bed. A hundred minor grievances throughout the day have built up to this moment. These feelings must out. And it is happening now.
We look at each other. Then I pull him close to me. He thinks about resisting but chooses not to. A hug disperses the anger this time. Tears of frustration give way to sad tears and slowly his breathing returns to normal. The tightly wound little body relaxes in my lap, relieved not to have to hit or shout. We sit like this for a moment. Quietly. Then, waters calm again, I suggest coat, shoes, home? Without a word of dissent, he agrees. And off we go. Hand in hand.