It was the day of the Dragons’ last soccer game of the season. My daughter, an easily excitable social butterfly, was ridden with joy as the final whistle blew to end the game. She was blissfully indifferent to the devastating loss of the championship game, one that would mark the completion to her very first year in playing team sports.
She held onto her joy well after the game had ended. With her adrenalin pumping in what seemed to be a happy sort of rage, she was thrilled that we had decided to stay late and let her kick the ball around with one of her equally exciteable and competitive teamates. Everything was going well. The girls were laughing with one another, constructively taking in each others play feedback, and disregarding the provoked “bossiness” in their attitudes.
But then, the proposed idea of playing half field one-on-one derailed the positive atmosphere and lit the flame under what would become a long and drawn out battle for peace. My daughter didn’t want to play that way, she didn’t want to run the field, and she didn’t want to be told to do so. Getting to the car and going home didn’t alleviate the situation. It was all pushing and pulling, begging for her to calm down, and scorning her for her behavior.
In reaching home and finally getting her inside, I sent her to the shower. “Wash off. Go stand under the warm water and you’ll feel better.” I demanded as she ran down the hall, crying her way into the bathroom. She flipped on the shower and her dispair continued. She bellowed and whined as she went through the routine motions she’d recently learned in order to independently clean herself.
As a parent, I had to fight the urge to punish her for her behavior. I had already scorned her for acting out at the fields and exploding in the car. To any bystander looking in, this would’ve been a common example of a spoiled little girl showing off and throwing a tantrum with her mother.
But no, that wasn’t it at all. I remembered the fields and how she was triggered by the changes in the after-game and how she was at such a heightened point in stimulation prior to the proposal. I remembered the look on her face, a microexpression of confusion, displaying the quick transfer in her thoughts and the attempt to control where her connections would be made. In that brief second, I saw everything that was coming but couldn’t find it in me to do anything but react to it. I needed to get myself into the moment and be more aware if I wanted to help her.
The mind is a confusing thing. With all of its jargon within the sciences and the magnitude of inconsistent and unreliable data, it’s hard to explain what exactly was happening to her. I guess I could say that all of her bliss was projected through her momentum. It resulted in the ability to maintain a single constant speed: FAST. In a quick change of structure that required a different system to function in the game, she was then propelled into a state of psychosis.
My daughter was going through the loop, taking new routes that would endlessly lead her back to where she started. She was lost and didn’t have a map to make her way back home. So in that moment, I had to find her. I had to help her find a new direction.
As I walked towards the bathroom, my mind raced back and forth with ideas that I could use to help her calm down. I thought of the endless mindfullness techniques I had read about in my research on mindset, resilience, and the prerequisites for reaching flow states. I thought of strategies I had learned within my own counseling sessions for behavioral management. I just needed to figure out how to apply them in a way that she could be both stimulated and grounded. I had to make her breath and reach for the sky.
I entered the bathroom and I knew for sure in that moment that this was not a cry for attention. She wasn’t wailing in order to make me feel bad or to summon me in any way. She wasn’t focused on my physical presence. Her behaviors weren’t by any means conscious decisions that could be mitigated by punishements or reinforcements.
At this point, I had a choice to either let her cry it out to the point where she would be too physically tired to keep it going. Or, my other choice was to help her by giving her the experiential knowledge she could later utilize to take control of the moment. The most difficult routes are often times the ones that we have to take more responsibility for. In this case, I was responsible for teaching her how to be present.
Before I could calme her down, I had to jolt her out of the emotional loop. The easiest way I knew how to do that was to cause a drastic change to her environment through her senses. So, I chose cold water.
I turned the nozzle on the shower over just long enough for her to feel the chill and then moved it back to her desired temperature. She jumped away from the stream of water, which gave me a very small gap of time to take advantage of.
She stood there staring at me, angry and confused as to why I made the water run cold. I got close and made sure to speak quietly and gently, “I know it’s hard when all of our thoughts and feelings are moving so fast and crashing into each other in our heads. It’s why you are having trouble breathing right now and it’s making you cry even though you don’t want to cry anymore”.
She wasn’t thrilled with my words, but I stayed on point with my plan anyway, “Your brain moves so fast. I bet we can turn it into a super power. Do you want to try and be a super hero with me?” I asked. She was both hesitant and curious, staring at me with her lips curled in disgust and tears still falling down her cheeks.
“Watch what I can do and then you can do it with me. You just have to learn”. So, I leaned down and touched my toes. With my hands positioned to rise with the curve of my body and my elbows bent accordingly, I rose and took in a long and deep breath through my nose until my hands were high above my head. I held it there, keeping the air in my lungs through a steady four-count. Then I released, keeping my back straight and slowly exhaling until my shoulders relaxed and my hands were at the side of my body.
“Do it with me this time?” I asked, part demanding and part requesting. She gave me an “Uh-uh” and crossed her arms in disagreement. “Oh, come on…Do this!” I responded as I swirled my hands above my body and whirled them down to my toes, “Come on honey, just touch your toes and copy me”.
After three or four toe touches, reaches to the sky, and breathing adjustments, the activity escalated into a frenzy of laughter and jumping. The activities of calmly communicating a resonating truth with her, persuading her to move her body, and teaching her a unique way to use box breathing, all helped her to find a new route to take that could lead her back to the present. She simply had to make a connection between doing an activity and getting a reward from it. In this case, the reward was learning a new superpower.
Next Up: The Little Things DO Matter- A continuation of this talk on the value of mindfullness and self-awareness.