Somewhere online recently, I read a quote that went something like “Your firs thought is your conditioning and your next thought is the real you.” It spoke to me. It sounds inspiring. It puts a nice little breath of air between our reactions and ourselves. Of course, it’s all in us, mixed together. But the point is, we are empowered when we give ourselves time before we respond to something.
When we are adults, mostly, these thoughts go on all inside our heads. But children don’t have the same containment and control. The first reaction comes out like exploding anger or bursting tears. It can be difficult to remain calm, many of us already working so hard with our own undulating emotions.
When my son and daughter first started butting heads, probably when he was about 2 and she 5. There would be an emotional explosion and we would be left trying to understand what had happened and how to help steer everyone towards peace and understanding. After trial and error, we came up with “Take Two” I can’t even recall how we came up with it. But my daughter loved it. She took to it immediately. Maybe because she’s a bit of a perfectionist? No matter the reason, it has become an important tool in our household, one that we all use.
It works like this; I’ll actually use an example from this morning. We were at the park and my son had his trike and my daughter her scooter. While my son was out examing a piece of grass or a bug or something, my daughter slipped onto his seat and tried to pedal. When my son saw this, he stood up in indignation and marched over to her, demanding angrily that she get out of his seat. Now, at this point we do NOT say, “Take two!” because, wow, that would be annoying!
We did crouch down to my son’s level and say “I can see you are angry. Is there another way you can ask her to get off your trike?” and he stopped, took a breath and said, calmly “Could you get off my trike? I want to ride it.” To which she replied. “Yes.”
If this was something where there were more intense feelings of hurt we would also have wanted him to talk about that. But this was simply a matter of learning to choose to ask in a calm manner instead of the inital reaction of anger.
It is such an important skill, and it goes hand in hand with understanding your own emotions. This is an ongoing process; a life-long process. One cannot learn, healthily, to respond calmly and authentically without also acknowledging underlying feelings. Some of that is emotional maturity and self-reflection. And some of that is having familiarity with the words you need. It helps to create a well-trod pathway in your mind that leads to talking about feelings and ultimately resolution.
Once the big feelings have been given their space, great conversations can blossom out of these “take two”‘s. They shed light on how varied people’s reasons can be for doing things, and how unfortunate it can be to assume someone is doing something specifically to make you angry or hurt. Although, with siblings and many relationships, that can still be the case.
The point is, that part of growing up is learning to respond instead of react. Reacting is easy and doesn’t take thought. We react a million different ways in the day; catching a falling dish, getting annoyed that someone ate the last of the peanut butter, some them helpful, but many times not.
I wonder how our days would differ, our relationships, our lives, if we focused more intently on responding to events that unfold instead of reacting.
It’s a challenge to be sure; an aim, a goal. I fall short mutliple times a day. But it’s still important to try. If we want to teach our children to speak their truth and respect the truth of others, learning to respond intentionally is a really important skill.