So, there I am at the supermarket. It's a BEAUTIFUL late summer/early autumn day. Warm, sunny, dry, fragrant air... I'm putting my groceries into the car and just enjoying everything, and I hear a shopping cart go by. I glance up, and it's one of those carts with a toy car in the front, and the little driver is taking his role very seriously. My heart goes pitter-patter as I enjoy his enjoyment. I continue stashing groceries.
Next thing I hear is screaming from our little driver. I glance up and see Mom forcing him into his car seat; he's red-faced and combative, and she is purposeful, stony-faced, and determined. She's not yelling, she's not saying anything actually, just doing what she's gotta do.
She goes back to finishing up emptying her cart and I hear her say to him through the back of the car, "What's the matter?" She says this many times, actually. And, he continues his screaming.
She walks the cart over to the corral across the aisle and then gets into the car and says to him, "What. Is. The. Problem???" She puts the car in reverse and drives away, and I can still hear him screaming.
Had she caught my eye or asked me what on earth should could do in that situation (which, of course, she never, ever would!!!), I'd have suggested that maybe she stop asking him what the matter was, why he was crying, and what was wrong. I'd have reminder her that if he could've told her what was wrong, he already would have, and that question may have been doing more to infuriate him than help make things better.
I'd have told her that whenever we are feeling big feelings (whether a child or an adult), we cannot bear to have to explain our feelings...on top of the burden of having the feelings to begin with! We simply want our feelings validated and accepted. Why we're feeling what we're feeling is, in fact, not the most important thing! (Unless, of course, we're feeling physical pain because someone else is standing on our little toe. Then, "why" is very useful.) ;-)
Often, having to figure out why we're feeling what we're feeling only adds to the burden of the challenging feelings. Not only do I have to endure this lousy feeling, but now I have to convince someone else that I'm justified in feeling that way!!! That's a heavy burden. If I knew, for example, that my honey would grill me and judge my feelings whenever I was struggling with a big feeling, I would learn to NEVER share my feelings with him. And, that would be a shame, because that would mean that there's an important level of trust that is missing from this important intimate relationship.
So, as long as I am being an "armchair quarterback," what COULD she have done to perhaps end the shopping trip on a happier note?
Well... she knows him better than I do, but I'll bet that he was digging driving that little car and was not ready for the fun to end. That's one reason why many children struggle with transitions. She could have let him know that they were going to empty the groceries into the car, and then she could have announced "One last go around the parking lot!" and she could have pushed the cart and maybe even jogged a little. She could have made engine sounds and really gotten into it. Then, they could have returned the cart to the supermarket rather than the corral so he could have had a role in "parking" the cart and pretending to do all the things he's seen his folks do when they park their car.
If he was STILL unhappy about the fun ending (and, that may very well have been the case!), she could have gotten down to his eye level and let him know that she understands that it's hard when the fun has to end. That it's OK to be sad, and that she will hold him while he cries. That he can take as long as he needs; there's no rush.
And, after he let those sad and mad feelings out, they could get on with their lives, planning what the next fun thing will be.
Some of the greatest gifts we can give our children are:
Our considerable experience with feelings.
And, our patience.
And, when we find ourselves short on those things, we can also take the time we need to question our own stories so we don't let them get in the way. Like, if the story is that, "We don't have time for this...we have to go now!" I can decide whether I want to be intentionally late, understanding that it may be better to show up 10 minutes late with a smiling child than it is to get there on time with an exhausted, sobbing child. (And, maybe there's no choice...maybe I absolutely have to go NOW!)
I wish I could have told her all these things. So, instead, I'm telling you.