I have to say, I do not know how technically true it is (though it makes a great deal of sense if it were true) that toddlers who do not have their tempers attended to appropriately end up having temper tantrums as teenagers, and if the still do not have those tantrums addressed as teenagers… Well you’ve all heard of a mid life crisis that one parent has which throws the entire family into disarray? Well that is supposedly simply the effects of an unattended 2 year old temper tantrum!
So as you can see (at least if that theory were true) that helping children to develop strategies for dealing with the circumstances that push their buttons is incredibly important for helping them to cope and remain balanced later in life.
When we have a difficult time – be that that the ice cream fell off its cone, or that someone stole your car or scribbled on your art work or any other kind of violation, if we do not express in some verbal way “you have violated my boundary” and crucially deal with the situation in a way that helps us to find some sense of peace, it gets logged as an event classified in the filing cabinet called ANGER.
Later on when we have another scenario crops up in life which evokes similar emotions, we do not just respond to the situation that is in front of us then and there, we respond to the one from that very first violation and all subsequent similar ones in between time.
To put this into context, let me give you a real life example.
When I was 11 years old, for money, I used to deliver newspapers. I did it for a few months but as it was a newspaper where I had to collect people’s subscription payments, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the number of people asking me into their house and I contacted the rep and gave notice. The rep asked me to return all the bits and pieces associated with the job and said I wouldn’t have to do the next paper round.
The next week I got home from school and my mum was spitting feathers she said someone from the company for the newspaper had called to say I has refused to take the newspapers at lunch time when they had tried to drop them off.
I was annoyed because this was a total lie. I’d been at school all day! But I realised I could easily prove that to my mum by telling her to phone my school and ask if I’d skipped out at lunchtime.
My mum said no, she wouldn’t call. Instead, she was believing the other adults version of events instead of believing me or at least checking the facts.
I was more angry that she wasn’t believing me, than I was that there had been some confusion about the newspaper delivery. Even more frustrating was that I could PROVE the truth and she wouldn’t let me!
So fast forward 24 years and a member of my family had looked up NLP4Kids on companies house. At that time, NLP4Kids still traded through People Building LTD, so I owned the company name ‘NLP4Kids’ but it was dormant as a trading account. The family member who knew nothing about company structures made some huge and inappropriate assumptions (which were grossly incorrect) based on NLP4Kids being dormant and then shared these assumptions with my mum.
When my mum told me what she ‘knew’ I got really angry because she had taken someone else’s word, instead of just talking to me or asking me. The thing is, I REALLY reacted very badly. I reacted like a child. I got so upset I cried the kind of crying whereby if someone tried to talk to me, they wouldn’t hear words that sounded in anyway human! It sounded a lot like hyperventilating. Because I was hyperventilating!
When I’d got a grip I was a bit flabbergasted with my reaction. To be fair, I’ve missed a chunk of the story I tell on our training about the context of *why* this was so important (which makes the whole scenarios even more flabbergasting) but for the purpose of quick explanation, let me just say this: My reaction about the misinterpreted accounts at companies house wasn’t the issue. My reaction as a 35 year old was in fact the further delayed reaction of the unfinished business from when I was 11 years old!
I wasn’t just ‘reacting’ like a child, I was catapulted back in time to the emotions I felt at that significant violation which had stayed inside, unresolved from all those years before.
We call this a Gestalt of negative emotions. It’s when you don’t just react to the ‘in the moment’ problem, you react based on all of the similar problems from the past that happens back then, in those old moments. Which means for everyone else, your anger (for example) can seem totally disproportionate to the set of circumstances that are occurring before you.
It really important to know about this inconvenient phenomena as a parent, carer or teacher, because children have a habit of hitting buttons – buttons you’d perhaps forgotten that even existed.
When you look back and say “Hang on a minute, what’s this really about?” And realise it was because little Johnny scribbled on your painting in black crayon when you were in nursery, you give yourself the opportunity to not just react more favourably to your present circumstances, but to also relieve yourself of the unsaid/unfinished business from in the past so that it doesn’t keep cropping up again and affecting your responses and behaviour in the future.
By Gemma Bailey