“This smoothie is yuck,” Anna exclaimed this morning. “It’s the worst smoothie I’ve ever tasted!”
Anna loves smoothies for breakfast, but when I ran out of her usual ingredients combo, I was hoping she wouldn’t notice. No such luck. She ranted for a good half hour about my disgusting smoothie, about how she couldn’t believe I had run out of fresh strawberries and only had the Caribbean blend of frozen fruit instead of the summertime blend, about how we had nothing else she liked for breakfast, about how she was going to have a horrible day now… And then about how she didn’t want to go to hockey camp, that it wasn’t any fun, and that she just wanted to stay home. And that she was tired. And hungry.
Outbursts like this have been pretty frequent over the past two weeks. Anna’s been easily frustrated, quick to yell at her sister, hitting (which we thought was totally behind us), defiant, a little snotty. We used to have lots of days like this but, thankfully, we haven’t seen them in a while. So long, that I’d forgotten some of the tools I used to keep firmly in my back pocket to diffuse these situations. I had forgotten the clenching sensation in my stomach when her voice started to shoot up octaves like one of those games at the fair — hit the plunger and see if you can make the bell ring. I’d forgotten that I know better ways of dealing with her emotions than to yell, “Anna, chill out!” Because, as we all know, that’s the opposite of effective.
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Mostly, what I forgot was that there’s always something bubbling under the surface, and finding out what that is, is the key.
I think Anna is feeling a little overwhelmed. She’s been at two different camps over the past three weeks, following the leader through a jam-packed day, doing as she’s told, eating bagged lunches, trying to make friends. Now she’s switched to hockey camp, with more new people, new rules, and added to that, hockey equipment to schlep on and off every day. Though Anna enjoys social situations, she has a definite introverted side, and I know it takes a lot of energy and discipline for her to keep a smile on her face and follow rules all day long. She has a limit. She’s also struggled in making connections with other kids at camp this summer, and I think she comes home and unloads some of those frustrations here — especially on her little sister, which makes sense if you think about it.
I also wonder if she has some anxiety about starting school. She says she doesn’t, but she is likely thinking about academics when I ask. I know the friendship aspect is on her mind. She wonders who will be in her class, and who will want to be “best friends” with her. She mentioned about how she doesn’t feel she has a true best, best friend. I told her that that was OK, that it was brand new year and who knows who she’ll enjoy hanging out with?
I’ve reminded myself that the start of school isn’t just about new backpacks and stocking the snack cupboard; it’s a big, looming event for kids, full of “newness” and the unknown, as well as excitement. And for kids who had a summer full of similar experiences — new camps, new faces, new activities — it might feel like they’re just jumping from one mountaintop to the next, without a breath in between.
Anna needs a breath. I know that. So I’ve pulled out my tools — when she’s having a “moment” I tell myself to sit with her, mirror back her emotions with empathy, talk out some solutions together — and I’ve told myself to, above else, stay calm. She’s dealing with big emotions, and needs a serene companion as she faces the next mountain. And she really, really needs the right fruit in her smoothie.