After a few minutes, though, I heard "here!" from the back seat, and turned around to see CG handing me the white board that has become our new favorite car toy. Sometimes, she draws on it, but sometimes, she and I write back and forth on it. Here's the correspondence that ensued:
Hi Mama, Im vry sore that I puld yor hare and tuggd on your niplz. Love, Curious Girl.
Dear Curious Girl, I'm very sorry you hurt me, too. My head still hurts. I love you, Mama.
Hi Mama, Im rely sore. I fel bad that I hurt you. I wish I kud hid in my sweatshirt. Love, Curious Girl.
Dear Curious Girl, Sometimes we try to hide when we make a mistake, but the best thing to do is make it right. If you hide in your sweatshirt forever, I will miss you forever. Love, Mama.
Dear Mama, I want to et. Love, Curious Girl.
At that point, we took a break and ate a bit, and Curious Girl turned back into her charming traveling self. She took her pointer and white board and started teaching a kindergarten class (in which I noticed she had to correct imaginary Curious Girl several times--I guess she was working out her own inner discipline).
Curious Girl is a great kid, and it's been clear to us from very early on that she needs help dealing with her emotions. All kids do, of course, but CG seems to easily get to a place where she can't calm down by herself. I think of her sometimes as my little Vulcan resonator--if I get angry when she's having a fit, she just feeds off my energy to ramp herself up. If I can stay calm, she can usually latch onto my calm and get herself back under control. Rachel's post on parents and anger led me to Laura Markham's parenting site, which has a ton of great information on anger. I've been reading it tonight, trying to figure out what is the right response to CG when she gets to physically angry. Markham says that tantruming kids are looking for something from their parents, and that empathy is the best way to help them name and act on their feelings.
In the midst of CG's tantrum today, I managed to distract her a bit by threatening to go through the week and cancel various activities, starting with tomorrow's play date, but that didn't really do much besides transfer the object of her anger (her cries shifted from "But I wanted to stay at the restaurant!" to "But I want to go home from school with My Friend tomorrow!"). I finally said, after one more yank on my hair, "fine, no playdate tomorrow. Keep it up and you'll lose your skating lesson on Wednesday," while thinking "a. this is not going to work: she will not remember this transaction the next time she gets mad and b. I wanted to work tomorrow afternoon. What am I doing to my own schedule?!?" While not threatening about the playdates, though, I was calm, and tried to tell her that she could calm down, that she was in charge of her body, and that it would get better. And eventually, it did.
Later on, Politica and I having conferred somewhat on the ways in which removing-playdate-consequences really aren't helpful here, we turned back to the conversation with CG, and I tried to explain the difference between feeling sorry and making something right (if you broke something of mine, you could say you're sorry, but then you could fix it, or get me a new one, to make it right.) This led, eventually, to another round with the white board, where CG made a list of ways to make things right with me. I didn't see the spelling here, but here's her plan:
step one: say I'm sorry
step two: find out if she's OK
step three: try to do something to make it better
step four: find out what hurts the most
step five: figure out how not to do it again
She was adorably into naming all these "steps" (which she thought of on her own) and figuring out how to write it all down so she wouldn't forget. Then we ran through all the steps, and on step 5, decided that "mad jumps" (jumping up and down 5 times after saying "mama, I'm mad!") might be the thing to do, rather than hitting. This let me say that I was going to let her have her play date after all, if she was ready to take responsibility for trying to calm down her anger. (We're also going to make a new Feeling Box for home, so she has paper and crayons specially for drawing when she's angry or sad.) She says that she'll let us remind her about jumping or the Feeling Box. I hope so. We had some success with the Feeling Box for a while last year, but when we moved, CG announced she didn't need it anymore. Clearly not.
It's relatively easy for me to empathize with CG when she's angry or sad generally--but when she gets so physically angry, it's harder. It's hard to know what to do with a raging child who's trying to hurt me and escalate things. I 'm taller and stronger than Politica, so I can carry CG even in a tantrum; Politica's already hitting some of her own physical limits with CG's size and strength. At the moment, I can restrain CG while she flails, but she will eventually get too big for that (sometimes even now, it's not practical to do that--she was able to hurt me today because we were in the car, and I couldn't easily get her in front of me.) I can shut myself in my own room to get away from her, but I can't reliably get CG to stay in her own space when she's angry. I'm just not sure what the natural consequences are for fits like this--and I'm not sure how to practice empathy with someone who's pulling my hair. Laura Markham doesn't comment on this anywhere I found. I'll be rereading How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk, and looking up another book Markham recomments (Smartlove, by Martha Pieper). And I'll be thinking hard about how to balance empathy and efforts to reach out to CG in her own vulnerable anger with how to keep my scalp happy.
I'll end by saying that these kinds of tantrums don't happen very often (although we've had two this month!) and Curious Girl feels awful afterwards (as evidenced by her note that she wanted to hide in her sweatshirt). I'm writing about it in such detail because, as Rachel's post noted, it's hard to find information about what parents do when we're angry. I spent half an hour in the car today worried that CG's behavior was totally abnormal, but Politica assured me that these things happen to other people, too, only they don't talk about it. So I'm writing about it, so if this happens in your car sometimes, you can remember this post.
One more observation: as I was trying to remember all the good ideas in Rachel's post on anger, which is titled "I want a chocolate bar," I remembered, I did have a chocolate bar! So we ate some chocolate, and that was good, too.