He screamed and screamed and screamed. He even kicked his little legs quite hard. I sat close, very close, offered my hand but was rejected. He screamed more. I stayed close. 'You are really upset' I said, trying to use a gentle voice. 'You are really upset, I can see that'. When the screaming stopped (and it lasted for ever...) we looked each other in the eye and hugged. We both needed that hug and we were both exhausted. Antek is now 16 months old. His feelings are REAL. Some of them are more than he can handle. And he wants to tell us about them. Sometimes all of them.
This was the first tantrum in the house. It followed a few days of some viral infection and a dinner that was slightly too late. Not letting Antek throw food around was that last straw... and frankly - we had it coming. So I stayed calm, acknowledged his feelings, let him know I won't let him throw food around. Being close by and letting him scream it all out allowed me to see that he actually may have been more scared of these emotions than I had thought he would be... and made me realize how much more he needed me to be there for him than when he is happily exploring the world around.
There were three things I wanted to try hard and make sure that we get from this loud expression of ... anger, I guess:
1. ALL feelings are fine. And they are all real. And they are all yours, and you have to learn to live with them for the rest of your life (and it's a wonderful thing!). And once they're gone, life goes on (and that is a wonderful thing, too)
2. Not all actions are fine. There are all the feelings that you will live with, and sometimes it will be hard. But there are things you can do and things you cannot do. For various reasons.
3. You are great and we love you. No matter what.
Korczak writes so beautifully about the importance of all feelings, and the need to understand, but also to accept them all: How can we know happiness if we don't know sadness? How can we know love if we can't recognize hate? Sometimes in my head I try to name all the feelings and emotions I experienced during the day. Some of them are easy to admit to, some not so easy, but togther all of them are a full picture of who I was during that day. If we don't allow the children to get to know those feelings when they first encounter them, how can they move on and continue to get to know themselves?
'When we were one or two years old we had what we might visualize as a 360-degree personality. Energy radiated out from all parts of our body and all parts of our psyche. A child running is a living globe of energy. We had a ball of energy, all right; but one day we noticed that our parents didn’t like certain parts of that ball. They said things like: “Can’t you be still?” Or “It isn’t nice to try and kill your brother.” Behind us we have an invisible bag, and the part of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep our parents’ love, put in the bag. By the time we go to school our bag is quite large. Then our teachers have their say: “Good children don’t get angry over such little things.” So we take our anger and put it in the bag... Then we do a lot of bag-stuffing in high school. This time it’s no longer the evil grownups that pressure us, but people our own age... So [...] out of a round globe of energy the twenty-year-old ends up with a slice... We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourself to put into the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again. Sometimes retrieving them feels impossible, as if the bag were sealed' (Robert Bly, "The book on the human shadow")
I know I have a bag. I know my husband has a pretty big one too. I know I have been trying hard to find some things in that bag when I needed them and because of all the clutter that's there, I couldn't find them (you know"good girls" don't really get angry, even when they feel they should). And I know that the bigger my bag got, the harder I found it to live with only that one slice that I had left - after all, it's nice to have a choice and lots of possibilities handy.
Not knowing all of the feelings we have, not understanding them may sometimes lead us to "get upset, when it's enough to ignore, feel contempt when [we] should have compassion" (Janusz Korczak)
But there is another thing that scares me about these bags that we drag around with us. When I looked at Antek after he screamed his anger out, I realised that it was all gone. All of it. Life was back to normal. We learnt a couple of things, but the anger was no longer there. If instead of letting it out we stuff it in a bag, surely it doesn't disappear there, does it?