Tuesday, July 4, 2017

It's Okay If You Scream

The timing was perfect.  The birthday candles were lit.  The little girls in their flouncy dresses had gathered around the table.  My sister had started to sing Happy Birthday when one of the little girls had a meltdown.  Total Meltdown.  Lisa screamed in one of those high-pitched glass-breaking voices, and I knew I had to act fast.  This was the reason my sister had requested Lisa’s mother stay; this is also the reason Lisa’s mother had dropped her off and sped off.  It was a complicated family situation that had added to Lisa's complicated behavior.

I took Lisa by her hand and marched her into my sister’s bedroom.  She was sobbing and wailing.  I got down on her level and looked at her steadily.

“I’m okay if you scream,” I said in an even voice.  This jolted her out of her screaming.

“I’m okay with it,” I said again.  “I know you lost your bracelet, and that your bracelet is really pretty and very important to you.  I know you’ve been looking for it.”

She continued to sob but didn’t scream anymore.

I knew that letting her know her crying a) wouldn’t bother me b) wouldn’t manipulate me and  c) wasn’t going to get her the attention of everyone was the right move.  I’d read tons of A-ha parenting articles and found that creating connection and empathy before going on to set boundaries was always helpful.  Once Lisa got that I was connected to her, she settled down.

“Oh - ,” she exclaimed, “there’s my bracelet.”  It was on my sister’s dresser.  She grabbed it, wiped her tears, and smiled.  “I’m so stupid,” she said.  “It was there, the whole time.”  

“We found it,” I said.   I didn’t agree with her assessment, but calling herself stupid seemed like something she had probably learned from someone else. I didn't need to add to it.

On cue, she began crying again.  “I wasted all this time, and I missed singing Olivia Happy Birthday!”  Tears flowed anew.  I waited with her.

“Sounds like you like singing Happy Birthday, “ I said.

“I do!”  More wailing.

“Sounds like you like making people happy,” I added.

“Yes!”  More tears.  Not ironical, but still had some irony for me.  Here this kid was crying, saying she wanted to make others happy while she wallowed in sadness.

“Well, you can go out once you’ve stopped crying.  I’m happy to stay here as long as that takes.”

She stopped and stared at me.  It was clear I wasn’t unnerved, annoyed, or having any sort of emotional reaction to her tears.

She wiped her face.  

“I’m okay,” she said.  “I’m fine.  I’ve stopped crying and can go back out.”

I led her to the door and we stepped into the other room.

She was seven years old.   Apparently from a highly dysfunctional family. Notoriously difficult and unfocused at school. Disliked by her peers.  They hadn’t wanted her to make bracelets with them, but with adult intervention, she was allowed to do so.

Her father picked her up from the party, and I explained what had happened.  He thanked me for my support, turned to his daughter, and told her it was time to leave.

“I don’t want to go,” she wailed.  

“Stop crying and get in the car,” he snapped, and he took off towards the car, his daughter trailing behind him.

I took a deep breath in and exhaled. My heart went out to her. To her parents. To those around her. Just a minimum of attention had made a small difference in those moments I was with her. Imagine if her parents gave her even more than that?

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