Neanderthal brains

I spent this past weekend at a hotel for my daughter’s ringette tournament. It was… well… chaos, to say the least. Little girls running around the hotel screaming, painting nails, painting banners, watching movies, exploding popcorn everywhere, and dunking each other in the pool; simply creating havoc everywhere they went. To add to the excitement, they severely lacked sleep. Which, of course, resulted in increased tears, whining, and general moodiness. Now, being exhausted myself and overwhelmed with the lack of work I was able to get done this weekend, I was to my limit.

Saturday night was particularly difficult after a long day. The girls were whining endlessly. After yet another emotional upset, I was ready to lose my mind and send everyone to bed. As I opened my mouth, I had a moment of self-awareness and noted how overtired and stressed I was. So, I took an extra second to take full stock of the situation. As I looked into my 3-year-old’s tear stricken face and my 7-year-old’s vacant, red eyes, I realized just how exhausted they were. I realized their brains simply could not function properly. “Neanderthal brain,” as I like to call it. (It’s true: whenever someone becomes upset/frustrated/overtired, their brain regresses. So, for a child, that can be quite substantial and they often lose their ability to self-regulate effectively). I knew no amount of my frustration (which of course would result in scolding, time-outs, frustration, or begging in exasperation for them to please, please, please stop whining) would actually help. In fact, any sort of response from frustration would certainly worsen the situation. And so, I softened. I chose not to say a word at all. Instead, I got to my knees. And I embraced both of them, folding them into my arms. As I did, I could feel them soften. Their little bodies melted and I could feel their arms wrap around me and their little hands on my back. My face was wet from their tears and a I received a nice slobbery, snotty kiss on my cheek. All I could do was close my eyes and sigh with contentment. And then, like magic, they turned things around, gave me a big smile and started to laugh. We ended up having a lovely night together. They went to bed readily a short time later, even though the other kids were still up and running around.

This is just one example of how my reaction can make or break a situation. I know that I am the gatekeeper to the energy of the house, which influences everyone’s behaviour and feelings. I know that my kids’ behaviours are directly related to my stress levels. The more stressed I am, the more hitting, spitting, yelling, and attitude I receive from my 3-year-old. And more attitude and distance I get from my eldest. But, I can immediately turn it around by showing greater patience and compassion for my children. It’s not easy and I certainly slip up frequently. But. I know that when I soften, my children soften. When I demonstrate patience and compassion, the house is a much calmer and peaceful place to be. This softness is something I am going to carry forward this week. My mantra will be, “patience.” I will practice taking a deep breathe, smile slightly (reminding myself of my children’s Neanderthal brains), and get down to their level to listen to what they have to say before snapping at them.