There are few things more challenging than angry meltdowns or tantrums. I used to get really freaked out by them.
What do I mean by “angry meltdown”? I’m talking about an explosion of intense emotion that may include hitting, swearing and screaming. If your child has angry meltdowns you may find yourself reacting and becoming very angry or scared.
I know what it’s like. I’ve been there. I have two sons and they both went through periods when they experienced explosive anger.
From the start, I was clear that I didn’t want to punish them. I didn’t want to inflict emotional pain to try and “teach them a lesson.”
I also didn’t want to shame them or tell them that they were bad or wrong for getting angry. I knew that would make them feel even worse and it wouldn’t help them become calm.
So what was left to try? I wanted a new, peaceful approach to dealing with angry meltdowns.
I realised that the only way I could really help my child was to listen to their anger without reacting. I had to be the calm centre at the heart of the storm; the one that didn’t get angry, frustrated or fearful.
Being calm in the middle of an emotional storm may sound like an impossible goal, but it isn’t.
The practice that made it possible for me to be calm in the face of intense emotions was a shift of my focus into calm, peaceful Presence. Every single one of us has calm, peace and stillness inside that is always with us.
In fact, it’s our true nature.
We get so caught up in our stressful thoughts and emotions that we lose touch with Presence and we forget that it’s there. Finding a way to shift attention away from our stressful thoughts and emotional reactions is essential if we want to be in Presence.
I’m not saying that we should try and permanently ignore our own thoughts and emotions! That would be very unhelpful in the long run. In fact, I’ve found that the more I’m willing to deeply investigate my reactions to my son’s angry meltdowns the better I handle them. I’ve discovered a lot about my own fears around anger (especially old fears relating to my father’s anger) and a lot about how I learned to repress my own healthy anger as a child. I’m not going into detail about those investigations here, as my purpose in this article is to focus on what I’d call First Aid in the event of an angry meltdown.
What can I do to deal calmly with an angry meltdown in the heat of the moment?
My First Aid response if to call on Presence. As much Presence with as much power behind it as I can muster in the moment.
How do I connect with Presence in a crisis?
I discovered the most effective way for me to still my thinking and find Presence is to focus attention on the energy inside my body. I call this focusing on my inner energy field. I learned this practice from Eckhart Tolle in his book “A New Earth”.
What is this inner energy field? It’s the tingling aliveness that you can feel inside your hands, feet and all through your body.
Can you find it now?
Shift your focus and feel the vibrant, calm, alive energy within your body.
To start with you might just get glimpses of your inner energy field. You might only feel it in your hands and feet, for example. That’s OK. Just focus on whatever tingling aliveness you can find inside your body and hold your attention there. Over time you will find that it “grows” until you can eventually feel it in your whole “inner body” and beyond.
How does focusing on the inner energy field help?
Basically, it gives you something else inside yourself to focus on instead of your thoughts and emotions. The inner energy field is like a portal into Presence. When you focus attention on the energy, it calms your mind and brings you into a calm, alert state. This practice pulled my attention away from my stressful thoughts and I was able to listen calmly to my child. I found that I could focus attention on my inner energy at the same time that I was listening to one of my sons have an angry meltdown. I’m now listening in Presence. This is a very different experience to the emotional reactions that I used to experience.
When my focus shifts to listening in Presence I don’t need to say much at all. I treat the angry meltdown like a thunderstorm. I listen with empathy to my child’s distress, but I don’t take what they say personally. I take shelter from the hitting and yelling if necessary, and I wait for my child’s anger to pass. Like a thunderstorm, I know that it will pass eventually.
Once the energy of my child’s anger has subsided I offer a hug. Then we get on with our day.
Without my own reactions feeding the meltdowns they pass more quickly and begin to melt away.
My greatest wish is that you find this calm Presence within yourself too. I know it’s there, waiting to be recognised. Listening in Presence when your child has an angry meltdown can be an empowering experience. I found that I could access a deep well of calm energy that I never realised I had inside me. Over time my awareness of this inner calm grew and grew, to the point that it has taken over most of my life.
Listening to those angry meltdown turned out to be a gift for me, as well as a gift for my sons. Because I learned how to listen without reacting, my sons had a safe space to learn about their own emotions and find solutions to their problems. The angry meltdowns eventually disappeared completely.