As parents, we teach our children many things. We teach them math, science, reading and writing. We teach them to wash their hands and flush the toilet (every damn day). We teach them to be respectful, to say please and thank you. And in this day and age, we teach them about the environment and how to stay safe at school. But we forget the most important thing. And if you have been reading this blog for a while, you know what I am going to say. We don’t teach them what to do with their emotions. We don’t teach them why they have emotions. And we don’t teach them what it means for them when other children (and adults) judge or play with their emotions. We don’t teach them emotional intelligence.
My own son can be explosive at moments. He struggles with his own fear which he has come by honestly. His life hasn’t been easy for a little guy. I am proud to say it hasn’t been like mine. I ended the generational abuse and trafficking. I am proud of that. But it came at a cost. When I got strong, everyone left. And if they didn’t leave, I had to kick them out. So as a very young child, his father and most of my extended family disappeared from his life. He spent his young life desperately trying to hold on to anyone who came around. And some of them left too but not for the same reasons (we had Au Pairs who stay for a year or two). And no matter how many times he begged me for a new father (gut-wrenching for me), I knew better than to bring in a new man with all that trauma in my system. I decided that no father was better than an abuser … at least for a while.
But this mass abandonment has taken its toll. And when you add in my own emotional regulation issues in the early days, it is no wonder my son can be a bit explosive. But with that comes problems. Children read energy. That can be good and bad because some children are looking for a way to feel powerful. This is especially true for children who are being cut down at home. So when they find a kid who can’t always hold it together, they provoke. This is incredibly frustrating in a classroom setting because the kid who provokes always flies under the radar. But the kid who explodes is the problem child.
By the way, if this is sounding familiar, it is a common tactic used in adult relationships too. If one person wants to prove the other person is the problem, they will find the triggers and poke at them until the explosion comes. Then they get to tell the other person that all the relationship problems are a result of their lack of emotional stability. The provoked becomes the abuser while the provoker is the victim. I see it all the time. It is patterns like this that require emotional intelligence to overcome. This is why I have spent the past three years teaching my son about the concept of “gray rocking”. If you haven’t heard of it, that may be purposeful. No abuser wants people to know about it. So here is a short explanation.
When you are interacting with someone who gives you the indication they want to control your emotions, don’t show any. Don’t show any reaction at all. Don’t give them any information at all. Is this easy? Absolutely not. The love seeker will want to impress them. And the mean kid will want to tear their head off. But this is the number one boundary you need to set with them. I have been teaching my son this concept for the past few years. And he is good at doing it when he knows what is happening, but sometimes misses the cues until it is too late. That is what almost happened the other night.
My children are participating in Cotillion. I thought that sounded like the worst thing ever until we went there. I absolutely love watching my kids learn to dance. I sit in the balcony and thoroughly enjoy myself for an hour. It helps that I am in love with ballroom dancing too. But most parents seem to have as much fun as the kids. And yes. The kids have fun (even with the eye rolls). But before the Halloween dance started, I witnessed something that unnerved me. My son was wearing a costume that nobody his age recognized. It was an Anime cosplay costume. He knew it was a risky choice, but it was what he wanted. The costume had an element that looked like a fidget spinner. One boy pointed out the resemblance and my son got upset saying loudly, “It’s not a fidget spinner.” He was worked up. And the boy knew it. I watched as he started telling all his friends to tell my son the same thing. I watched him plot while I sat there wanting to punch him in the face. And I watched my son getting more worked up with each interaction. I could hear an inner voice saying, “Don’t hover. Don’t hover. Don’t hover.” But my feet carried me down the steps anyway.
I called to him in a very nonchalant way. I just said I needed to tell him something. And he’s still young enough to acknowledge my existence in front of others. I didn’t lecture. I didn’t turn into one of those annoying moms. I just said I saw what happened and those boys were plotting. It was all on purpose. I made it sound like I was his spy giving him valuable information. I said it was time for the “gray rock”. He understood. The next boy got no response but a shrug of the shoulders. And it was over. Just like that, the “Lord of the Flies” episode ended. The boys when back to their hormonal imbalances and my son was in the clear. And I realized in that moment that I was proud of myself for two things. First, I didn’t punch that kid in the face. Second, I didn’t hover. I took advantage of a teachable moment. I taught emotional intelligence. We can’t fix the world for our children, but we can help our children emotionally cope with it. If we do, the world will start to shift. If we don’t, we didn’t do our job.