Forever Family: safe havens

Anger is a tricky emotion.  It can feel so righteous, so good to get angry about being mistreated. To lash out when you feel like you’re the last to earn privileges dropped easily into your friends’ laps.  Channeling frustrations from the day into a small slight once you’re home.

I don’t think it’s healthy to tell kids they can’t express anger.  At the same time, I’m supposed to help them recognize when their feelings are justified and practice communicating them in a nonviolent way.  Not such an easy skill to master when you’re a tween.

T-man’s history of acting out rests squarely within the family.  He works hard to maintain a flawless front at school and with his friends, so when I’ve asked his teachers if T-man has any history of outbursts in class they’ve reacted with shock and disbelief.  I’m sure he’s not perfect at school because, well, he’s human, but he’s definitely not flying off the handle.

If you asked T-man, though, he’d tell you his teachers get upset with him a lot.  But based on the fact that I’ve never been approached by a teacher about an issue, I think T-man is just extremely sensitive to disapproval.  A correction that another kid would blow off sends him into a tailspin, so simple comments like “stop talking” in class feel like major disappointments to the adult with him.  Basically he’s wound pretty tight all day.

Which means it should be no surprise that sometimes T-man unloads on us when he’s at home. He feels safer here, less like he’ll be voted off the island for losing his temper.  Which, in its own backhanded way, is a compliment.  That doesn’t make it any easier when he’s pulling a nutty but still…

T-man and Bear got into it last month.  I can’t remember specifics but the long and short of it was that he treated her badly, so much so that she came in the house crying.  Now, talking with T-man in the heat of the moment typically fails (it’s that whole teachable space thing), so I didn’t get into it with him until later that evening.

By waiting until his head was clear T-man was able to recognize that he feels safer treating Bear worse than his friends because she’s his sister so she’ll always be there.  Bonus points for feeling secure in her love, but we had to address why siblings remain close into adulthood.  This led to a conversation about how Bear will always love him because he’s her brother, but that doesn’t mean she’ll always like him.  That when people hurt us too many times we start to protect ourselves by stepping back to shield our hearts.  It was an eye opening conversation all around.

When I think about the progress T-man’s made in the last few years on how he handles anger and frustration alone…well, it makes me extremely proud.  He’s doing the work, and he’s so much happier for it.

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