This post needs a content warning. I am talking about violence against children—not in the present tense, thankfully, but in the past tense. I am also talking about defusing anger responses against children instead of giving in to them. I understand that this is a really fraught topic. I have times in my life where I wouldn’t be able to read a post like this. I understand if you need to scroll past.
She was watching a movie happily. He was, too, until his attention wore out and he needed to get up and wiggle. Actually what he *wanted* to do was wrestle or roughhouse, which he demonstrated by leaning over and grabbing her by the leg.
She didn’t want that, she was watching the movie, she screamed at him to let him know. I sat down in between the two of them. He didn’t want *that*, he stood up and walked around me to grab her by the leg again, looking at me to see what I would do while she screamed again. I took his hand off of her leg and he threw himself down on the floor, sobbing and screaming, unraveling.
He wanted to wrestle, he wanted to let his emotions out through rough play, and if he couldn’t get that then he was going to throw himself around with all of that “rough” energy because it had to go somewhere. And I *knew* he just wanted to roughhouse but oh, how much I did not want to.
There was a big empty cardboard box on the floor next to him where he’d thrown himself down. Still angry at me for having blocked him from grabbing his sister, he picked up the box and hurled it at me.
It was an empty cardboard box, it was very big and unwieldy and slow as projectiles go, and even if it had hit me with any speed it wouldn’t have hurt. (I easily caught it.)
But it still raised all my threat responses. Really furious, really wounded threat responses that scream very loudly in my head especially when I am hit or kicked or thrown at. I wanted to hit him with the box. It feels awful (and pretty absurd) to even type that out. I am saying it because I know that I cannot be the only one with anger responses wired into them, their body’s first impulse, and I want you to know that you’re not the only one whose brain might tell you something as unhelpful as, hit your child with this box.
I flipped the box over and put it on his head. And then I drummed on the base of it like a drumroll for a couple of seconds, punctuated by one last drum and making a cymbal noise with my mouth, like, “Crashhhh!”
Then I paused, just long enough to hear him giggling hysterically and begging, “Crash it!!! Mom, can you crash it?”
His giggling, and the sensory input I got from hitting the box—the way that it “met” the feeling inside my body that wanted to “hit” or “be aggressive”—defused any scrap of tension that was left in my body. I wasn’t just acting playful without feeling it anymore, now I was also feeling it.
So I did it again, and then again, and then the game morphed because little sister thought this sounded way more fun than watching a movie and joined in, and then it became him rolling around on the ground wrestling the box, and then it became the two of them running around the house with the box and leaving me behind entirely.
He got his needs met.
And I’m rewiring that frightened, angry, hurty place in my brain. Every time I remember I’m the adult. Every time I remember how much hundreds of times more logic and explanations I carry in my mind. Every time I teach myself how to read the situation (“he desperately wants to wrestle”, not, “he’s just being a jerk to his sister for no reason”). Every time I practice creatively meeting his needs in a way that doesn’t violate mine.