Friday, December 19, 2014

Navigating (Annie's) Big Emotions

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, I've been making a big deal of the emotional growth I've seen in Annie recently. I've probably mentioned it a good bit here, too, in her letters and in passing in my Weekly Happenings Posts.

It's been a neat transformation to watch, I have to say.

First, a little background- she is a lot like her momma. ALOT. She's sensitive, stubborn, and dramatic. For the past couple of years, she's struggled a lot with difficult emotions (not in an extremely unhealthy way or anything, just in the way I'd imagine most highly sensitive children would). When she'd get sad or angry, it was a BIG DEAL. And it lasted for a good while.

I was unsure how to handle it for awhile and then I read this book about a parent's role as an "emotional coach" and it really transformed my thinking. It was very similar to what my mom did with me, which is one reason I think I'm as emotionally healthy as I am. I did decide that I wanted to work toward her taking ownership of her emotions and figuring out solutions on her own (which the book totally advises, I just don't think my mom really knew how to do that).

I recently posted a picture of her recently from last year around this time. It was the first time I watched her really find a solution when she was relatively upset. We had been at my parents' house and she said she wanted my mom to read her another book. I told her Minnie wasn't reading anymore but she could look at one while I finished getting stuff together to leave. She sat down in the lap of this huge stuffed bear they have, squeezed his cheeks, and told him "Look me in the eyes. I need you to read me this book. Don't just look at it, READ". And that worked for her.

Well, almost a year later, when we were in Mississippi a couple of months ago, I watched her problem solve while in INTENSE crisis mode for the first time. It was amazing. I've shared in other posts, but she cried for a solid hour over something that was (to me) very silly (a really large, heavy flashlight I wouldn't let her hold in the bed). I tried to help her think of solutions for a bit and then just held her while she sobbed. Finally, she came up with her own solution. It was the first time she's ever done that when she's been so worked up. I know doing it the way I do isn't for everyone and it's been really hard at times, but I got my reward that night, watching her problem solve through tears and exhaustion.

After we got back, a few weeks later, we had another big incident (we probably had many small ones, but this one stood out). She was upset because Peyton had told her he wasn't going into her room to rebuild a bed sheet "tent" that had fallen down. We tried to let her come up with a solution, but over an hour later we were all exhausted from the tears of frustration. I finally showed her how to built a "nest" by putting some pillows and things around her. I figured it wasn't caving to going back and building the tent and plus it was a skill she could use going forward since it was much easier than building a tent. She calmed down quickly and after a few minutes of Peyton and I being able to talk and breath again, I went in to talk to her, even though it was late.

I asked her to tell me, now that she was calm, if she could think up two or three solutions. She came up with three!

Her solutions:
- she could have shared Graves's tent (he offered many times- sweet soul doesn't like to see his sister hurting)
- she could try to build a tent she could make herself (i.e. using lower thing and not making it as impressive as Papa's)
- she could (forget about the tent entirely and just) look at catalog

I was impressed, but not overly. She's a bright, creative kid and I know she's able to solve many of her own problems. The issue is mostly getting there. So after that I asked her if she could come up with some strategies to calm herself down.

Her strategies:
-  make up a "peaceful" song. This was her example. "Swing so high. Up to the sky. I can almost touch the clouds."
- take two deep breathes.
- count to ten

I was pretty impressed with those ideas and I made a mental note to try to remind her of them when necessary. Our talks have really changed a lot over the years and it's so amazing to watch her grow in the kind of discussions she can have with me. Another day we neither one did a great job handling our angry emotions. We resolved the problem mostly, but then I spent the first part of Graves's naptime with her, brainstorming ways to prevent it from even occurring. We both came up with our own lists. Our combined lists looked slightly similar to the calm down strategies above. Here they are:
1) breath
2) pray
3) hug
4) sing

In our impatient moments we're trying to slow down and take a few breaths because sometimes I'm just so caught up in my frustration, I need something to bring me back around. These breaths are more like sighs for me and sometimes I think a sigh can solve a world of trouble. It just helps to push the gross stuff out of me or something. We're trying to pray because I know that helps me refocus my heart and soul the way deep breaths help me refocus my body. We're trying to hug each other because even in our angriest moments; we are each other's best people, brightest fans, and biggest loves and sometimes physical touch reminds us of that in a way nothing else can. And we're trying to sing because as terrible as I am at it, it seems to soothe them and me and it also forces me to get over myself a bit.

The last little anecdote I'll share came last week when we hit another milestoneAnnie's favorite high heel dress up shoe broke while I was cooking supper. She cried for maybe ten minutes, then went to her room came back with a huge smile and said "There's only one thing that will fix this. I'm going to have to be Cinderella tonight". It was so clear to me that she is making huge strides in learning to manage her emotions. Six months ago this would have been an hour in tears and me having to give her a lot of assistance with coming up with possible solutions. I am SO proud of her! (And proud of me for not punishing her for things I knew of didn't want to punish for.)

I feel really fortunate to get to spend my days the way I do. Typing all this out together reminds me of that and reminds me that her and her brother's education is so much more than the books and manipulatives that fill our homeschool cabinet. It's about learning how to process difficult feelings when the world seems ugly and cruel. It's about finding different ways to connect to each other even when we're volatile and tense and agitated. It's about having a sense of humor and realizing that one man's broken shoe is another man's opportunity to reenact a favorite fairy tale. It's about teaching a five year old self care and it's about loving each other well. 

How wonderful it is to watch another person grow and learn and how wonderful it is to help her!

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