Twenty years ago, my wife and I were vacationing in San Diego with my in-laws. We went to see a dear family friend, who happened to be a Holocaust Survivor and psychotherapist.
We had one of our children with us. As you may know, traveling with a baby isn’t easy, and our toddler was tired, squirmy, and loud. We did all we could to entertain, distract, and calm him as our embarrassment grew.
This kind woman interrupted the conversation, turned to us with a knowing smile and said “The more upset they become, the calmer you become.”
She went on to explain that if someone became angry with her, she became sweet. If someone raised their voice, she spoke softly. The more intense a situation was, the calmer she became. This is emotional discipline. And it doesn’t come naturally.
In Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s book “Enthusiasm Makes the Difference” he tells of a man who had a wild and ungovernable temper. He would fly into a rage, only to sink into depression afterwards. About the time he turned 40, he became a man recognized for his enthusiasm and happiness and did not manifest any of the emotional outbursts he had been feared for.
When asked by his son how he did it he responded “Son, I simply got tired of being the way I was. I believe in prayer and in God. I asked God to change me and he did.” When asked if he ever felt the old anger coming up again he replied “When I do son, instead of flying into a great rage, I fly into a great calm.”
My wife decided to try this with our son who didn’t always enjoy attending church. When he began to throw a fit, she would pick him up, take him out, find a classroom, sit on the chair and hold him in her arms, loosely, but firmly.
The more he would fight and rage, the slower and more deeply she’d breathe. She would close her eyes, lower her shoulders and coo to him, reminding herself to become more soft and quiet. Eventually he would wear himself out, and allow her to take him back into church where he would enjoy picture books and more freedom.
As our toddlers grow to adolescents, we can no longer physically hold them, but we can still emotionally maintain our peace and hold them in a loving and rational place by maintaining our good tempers until they wear themselves out. We can then lead them back to the relationship or situation where they find the peace and freedom we can all appreciate.
The next time voices are rising, check yourself, then take the opportunity to shock the system by settling into a remarkable calm. Were the outcomes different from the norm?
To your family’s success and happiness!