Staying Sane: Communication and getting to the root of the problem

On Sunday nights I usually try to post something in my “Staying Sane” series… and something happened over this past weekend that I wanted to write about. It was about a temper tantrum and a conversation that I had with my eldest son, Big Bro.

It was Friday night. I had the kids all day and all evening, solo. We had a full day – and at bedtime all kids were pretty much wiped out. Books are a very important thing in our family. We have been very consistent with each child (the Twins got a slow start though, I’m sad to say….) and they really, really, really, look forward to books at bedtime. So much so, that our eldest kids are enjoying reading to the Twins!!!!


But I digress. The important thing to note is that our children love book-time at bed. And each child gets to pick out their own book for us to read.

So it is Friday night. And I read a book to Red (“Handa’s Surprise” by Eileen Browne. I even love it.). Big Bro was busy finishing up teeth brushing so he entered the story halfway. The kids normally get into a routine where they love a book for weeks at a time and then move on to another. Well, I was reading a book that I’ve must have read 100+ times — it was not a new story. It was a story that my kids know well. And even though Big Bro missed several of the first pages he knew the story like the back of his hand.

There was also a Spiderman book next to me. I mistakingly thought it was HIS choice of books. So I read it. Then I said it was bedtime.

And that is when the tantrum began.

We’ve experienced these plenty of times in the past with Big Bro. He is our first and our most spoiled. He throws himself on the ground in fits more often than our toddler Twins.

Our conversation went like this:

Me: What is wrong?
BB: I want you to read that Handa book again, from the beginning. [sob sob, whine whine, cry cry]
Me: But [Big Bro] sweetie, I said that it was book time and I asked you to sit next to me with the Spiderman book and you didn’t want to. You had your book. I read two books. I’m not going to read another book again.
BB: NO!!!! [scream, sob, cry, yell] [while I pull him into bed]. I want you to read the book!! I want you to read the book!!!! I want you to read the book!!! From the beginning!!!!
Me: No sweetie, I’m sorry. I said that I was ready to read you the Spiderman book but you weren’t paying attention. I read the two books for tonight. I will check on you after I take my shower [yes, I revert to this on weekends – no time for my own showers in the morning on weekends].

So I go and take a nice shower, thinking that by the time I get out all will be well, he would have settled himself out, and things would be wonderful in the world again.

I was wrong. He was sitting in the middle of his floor, eyes red, looking half asleep, and looking like his version of an “Occupy” standoff.

I asked him to get back in bed. That is when the REAL tantrum started. I decided there was something more going on here. I decided to get to the root of the problem. There is more here than just a damn book.

Me: BB, BB, BB, sweetie, please, look at me. [I kneel down and take his face so that I can look at him in his eyes]. Please calm down. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Please. I know that there is something else that’s bothering you. Please I don’t think I have the full story. Please try to calm down and tell me what is really upsetting you. It’s NOT that I didn’t read that Handa book a second time. What is it? Can you find the words to tell me what is making you so upset?
BB: You read to [Red] but I didn’t get a book to pick out.
Me: Oh…. you mean to say that you did NOT pick out the Spiderman book?
BB: No.
Me: So you didn’t GET a book to pick out for me to read to you tonight?
BB: No.

Oh my goodness my heart just melted into pieces. I took for granted that the Spiderman book was his book but he was the one that actually picked out the Handa book. He wanted me to read him that book and start from the beginning since it was his book that he chose and I started reading it without him. He just wanted his full turn and his full time with me.

So of course I sat him down immediately and we read the book. Red even came over. And his body stance and how she snuggled up to me and how were were interacting and talking about the book was like a 180 degree turnaround. It was like I had whiplash.

Misunderstandings happen. We know that. It happens all the time with our kids. And the tantrums at night can be easily over-looked as being over-tired. But seeing my child stand-off to me (in an almost peaceful sort of way) even 20 minutes later told me that I wasn’t getting it right.

I am so proud that he took the time and through his tears to pause and stop and find his words to express what was really upsetting him. Sometimes this is very hard for kids to do. Sometimes they even forget why they are so upset. But him in his tired and half-sleep state trusted me enough to work through it with me and explain in a different way what was bothering him.

Of course I made a big deal out of it. I told him how proud I was of him for calming his body and finding the true reason why he was so upset. It wasn’t that I didn’t read the book a second time, it was that he never had a FIRST time with a book that HE picked. I repeated this to him and I told him that this is what a mis-understanding is and that sometimes misunderstandings happen. But it is important to TALK about it and find your words that way the other person [me] can truly understand. It is important that I truly understand what is bothering him and each of my kids.

Of course Red was there listening to all of this too. So I reiterated this lesson to both of them, again. And I apologized to Big Bro and commended him on his strength and patience and ability to express himself so clearly to me. And the hug that I gave him was strong and REAL. And he knew it.

So I left the room with more emotions that I had originally envisioned. I felt guilty for putting him through this. But misunderstandings happen. But what he DID get to see out of this is how I took the time to work with him and talk to him and that he saw that it was very important for me to really understand what was causing his distress.

So now I know to listen a little more, do not take situations for granted, and push each of my children to find the words and communicate to me – to talk about their feelings, why they are upset, and even the good stuff too.

Thanks for listening –
– Mama K


  1. Thanks! This is great advice and a great story with which to share it.

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