“I don’t even remember what precipitated her rage that day. She was just 5 or 6 years old and I was shocked by both her fury and her strength, the strength of her emotional fury and her physical strength. This was something I had never seen before.
The target was her 3 or 4-year-old little sister. I had no idea what had triggered her rage and honestly, I had no idea what to do at the moment. She had backed her sister into a corner with both sides blocked. There was no way for me to remove her target without going through her, but I couldn’t reach her through her rage. I was certain she couldn’t hear me. She was completely out of control and I was at a loss.
In the moment, I battled my own triggers of feeling like a failure, which made me angry. Seeing my children hurt by anyone, even by one of my own children, made me afraid and angry. My rage started building and I, too, felt out of control. The urge to smack her filled me with shame, even as I knew that would have been my own experience as a child.
Before we changed our parenting, I would have yelled, spanked, and heaped on shame. That was before I understood dysregulation and helping children process their emotions by going through them. Before I understood how my own unresolved trauma could be triggered by my child struggling, I would have sought to find control over myself by controlling her. I would have aimed to simply shut down the behavior. Whatever it took, stopping the behavior and how it made me feel would have been my priority. Even if it meant acting just like her.
Now, I had to do something else. I wasn’t entirely sure what. Normally, my priority would be to remove the target child and then create a safe space to help the dysregulated child calm down and for us to identify the need being expressed to help her. That wasn’t possible though and I had to figure out something else.
All this went through my head in a moment. Acting swiftly was of the essence for the safety and wellbeing of my other child, the one being attacked. Balancing the needs of everyone felt impossible.
Having already attempted to get her to shift her focus to me, I made the decision to physically move her. I wasn’t sure it was the right decision but it seemed like the only one I could make. Because I wanted to respect her right to bodily autonomy and consent, I raised my voice to call her name to get her attention before I took this step of action. For a brief moment, she glared at me. I quickly told her she needed to stop or I was going to have to move her.
Demonstrating she didn’t care what I said, she turned with renewed fury to unleash on her sister.
To check my own regulation, I took a deep breath to calm myself before stepping in and wrapping my arms around her from behind and lifting her off her feet while their daddy stepped in and scooped up her target.
She screamed, slapped, punched, and kicked, writhing with all of her strength.
‘PUT ME DOWN! YOU DO NOT HAVE MY PERMISSION TO TOUCH ME! I DO NOT CONSENT! YOU HAVE TO RESPECT MY BOUNDARIES!’
I carried her the six steps to the other side of the room and set her down, placing myself between her and her target.
Almost as soon as her feet touched the ground, she scrambled to get back to her sister.
Breathing heavily from the exertion of moving her already, I planted my feet and blocked her, receiving the rage through her fists.
‘GET OUT OF MY WAY!’
‘I won’t let you hurt your sister. I won’t let you hurt me.’
‘GET OUT OF MY WAY!’
‘I won’t let you hurt your sister. I won’t let you hurt me. I will help you get control of yourself.’
She lunged around me. I wrapped my arms around her again and lifted her off her feet. My lips close to her ear, I calmly restated I wouldn’t let her hurt her sister or me and I will help her get control of herself.
‘I DON’T WANT YOUR HELP! GET OUT OF MY WAY!’
Her screams of anger began to melt into shrieking sobs of frustration, but she wasn’t done fighting to get to her sister.
‘I’m going to help you get to your room.’
‘I WANT TO KILL HER!’
‘I won’t let you hurt your sister. I won’t let you hurt me. I will help you get control of yourself. We are going to your room.’
Carrying a big thrashing 5 or 6-year-old down the stairs was no small feat for me. Turns out, she was really strong and she was tall. I’m not particularly strong and I’m short. I could barely keep her up off the ground. Somehow, we made it and as much as I wanted to toss her in her room or on her bed, I deposited her as carefully as I could on her bed.
‘GET OUT OF MY ROOM! YOU’RE NOT RESPECTING MY BOUNDARIES!’
‘I will leave your room. When you are ready, I will be right outside for you. I love you. I would like to give you a hug when you’re ready.’
Knowing her little sister was taken care of by her daddy, I sat down on the floor right outside of her door, texting my husband about meal planning, running to the store, and what had just happened. Occasionally a scream of rage would punctuate her otherwise quiet sobs from inside the room.
About 10 minutes passed and no more sounds emanated from behind the closed door. I heard the click of the door unlatching and it cracked open an inch.
‘Does everyone hate me now?’
‘No, we love you. I love you.’
The door closed and the cries resumed, now no longer angry but very, very sad. When the door opened again, it was just enough for her to squeeze through and crawl over to me and into my lap.
‘I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I hurt my sister.’
‘I’m sorry too.’
‘Am I a bad kid?’
‘No, you are not a bad kid. What you did was bad. It hurt your sister and me and it will make it difficult for her to feel safe around you. But that isn’t who you are. You weren’t your true self then. You lost control and needed help.’
‘I didn’t like when you picked me up, I didn’t want that, and you didn’t respect my boundaries.’
She started crying.
‘Dude, I didn’t like it either. It sucked. I didn’t want to do it. But were you respecting your sister’s boundaries by hitting and kicking her?’
‘No, you weren’t. I had to keep her safe too and since you weren’t respecting her boundaries and you were hurting her, I had to stop you.’
‘I’m glad you stopped me from hurting her more. I’m really sorry, I really don’t want to hurt her.’
‘I know. Maybe later we can work through what happened and come up with some better ways to express our anger without hurting people. Would you do that with me?’
‘What if I can’t do it better?’
‘Then I will help you.’
‘What do you think you can do now to help make things better?’
‘Tell her I’m sorry and see if she would like a hug.’
‘That sounds like a very good start.’
‘She might not want a hug because she might be afraid of me now.’
‘That’s possible. You can’t know until you try, and you still have to try to do the right thing to restore things no matter what her response is.’
‘Okay. Can we sit here a little longer? It feels good.’
‘Yes, we can sit here until you’re ready.’
‘You still love me?’
‘Nothing could make me stop loving you.’
We sat until she was ready and no, we didn’t get to the store that night and my kids took the oddest assortment of food to school for lunch the next day. This was more important.
Today, that then 5 or 6-year-old is a middle schooler with a level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence I didn’t have until in my 30’s. She is articulate and able to regulate well. She didn’t get stuck in that place of rage. While there are still times of sibling conflict, she possesses conflict resolution skills she utilizes with such competency, she has been a student moderator at school for 2 years.
I still don’t know if I did the right thing in that moment, but it was a strategy I would use a few more times over the years. Being out of control and hurting others is scary for children too and sometimes they need our help to gain control of themselves. I could have overpowered her to cause her pain to ‘teach her a lesson’ but that would have been my own triggers speaking. I want something better for my children, even if it isn’t perfect.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jessica and Jeremy Martin-Weber of We’re All Human Here. Follow We’re All Human Here on Instagram here. Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best love stories here.
Read more stories from Jessica and Jeremy here:
‘She came to us asking why she felt so much anger. Jeremy gave her a hammer. The slightest thing sets her off, boiling just under the surface.’: Daughter ‘relieved to know she wasn’t alone’ after parents help her to ‘release anger safely’
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