What do you do with a sulky child? My ten year old has a tendency to be more negative than the others and I have to admit my patience gets really low when I hear him complain about things for no good reason. Why are we having left overs again? Why can’t we play outside for longer? Why did he get more Milo than me?
My usual tactic has been to start listing off all the things he has to be grateful for, and I’ll usually throw in some dramatic examples of my own childhood as a refugee immigrant for additional dramatics. Somehow, this never tends to elicit the spontaneous gratitude that I keep hoping for.
The other day it occurred to me that the problem with sulking is not necessarily an issue of gratitude. It’s perhaps more of an issue of managing emotions; as intertwined as the two may be. We may FEEL upset, angry, jealous or disappointed… but the key point is that we don’t have to ACT upset, angry, jealous or disappointed. After all, I don’t want to necessarily teach my sons to suppress their emotions. Only to handle them better.
Naturally, I turned to the Avengers franchise for some assistance. We were driving to school and I asked the kids to imagine what it would be like to own an Iron Man power suit. What could it do? What powers would the suit give them? How strong would we feel? After a long list of ‘cool stuff’, I casually mentioned what a shame it would be, to have an Iron Man power suit hanging in your closet, if you only ever chose to wear pyjamas.
Duh. Now wouldn’t that be dumb, we all agreed. Then of course, I made my point. Feelings are spontaneous. They often just happen, they hit us from out of the blue. Sometimes like bullets. If you’re just wearing your pyjamas, you’re going to get injured. But if you put on your suit, if you switch on your brain, you can filter how the world comes at you.
Being ACTIVE in the processing of your emotions is an acquired skill, and one that as Latin American, I may always wrestle with! But it is something to aspire towards and something I’d like to encourage my children to practise. We pulled up outside the school and I turned to Max: The world isn’t happening to YOU, kid. YOU go and make things happen in the world.
He swaggered out and waved goodbye at me with a smirk, “Thanks for the TED talk, mum”. Anytime. Now, cheer the heck up.