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Meeting the Wild with Calm

Yesterday in Target, in the aisle with diapers and wipes, I saw one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. A toddler was having one of those tantrums. You know the kind – screaming at the top of his lungs, a red, tear-streaked face, ripping off clothing – even his diaper, for full effect. I remember those young parenting days well. 

The mother was sitting cross-legged on the floor. Calm. Her posture was open. Welcoming. Waiting patiently for whenever her child was ready.

Her child ran back and forth in the aisle, running in circles around his mother – yet always keeping his mother in sight. He wanted to run away, and he wanted to be close. His little bare feet thumped on the white floor. The screaming continued. 

The mother waited. She didn’t reach out. She didn’t speak. Her face looked calm. “When you’re ready,” her face seemed to say. 

At one point, her son climbed into her lap. Then he took off running and screaming again, down the aisle toward the pull-up diapers. Then he came back again. The mother put her hand on his back. For a moment, he was calm. But he wasn’t ready yet. He ran down the other direction. 

“Go, go and be wild. Get the wildness and mad out,” the mother’s look seemed to say. “I will be here when you’re ready.”

Then he came back. This time he sat in his mother’s lap. His sobs had turned deep. His little body seemed heavy and tired. He put his head on his mother’s shoulder. The mother embraced her little boy. Now he was ready. 

The thing is, you can’t de-escalate someone else if you are escalated yourself. It’s so easy in that moment to meet wild with wild, to get good and mad and frustrated. But when wild is met with calm – well, that’s one of the most beautiful sights to see.

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.