“Mommy, you look like you need some peaches”, my four-year-old tells me at the breakfast table this morning, which prompted me to take a deep breath. “Why did he say this?” You ask.
Let me tell you about our family code words.
About a month ago, our oldest son Matthew had a croup cough. He also has ADHD, so the oral steroid the doctor prescribed transformed my son into a super-hyper energizer bunny. On the first day of the medicine, I sat down with him and explained that his medicine was going to make his brain even more hyper for the next week, so he was going to have to work extra hard to calm himself and take moments of quiet when he starts to spin out of control into “hyper land”.
Matthew was not sure he would realize he was getting hyper, which I expected, so we talked about having a code word that I could use when he needed to pause for a moment, take a deep breath, then quiet himself. Anything he finds silly adds more credibility, so I suggested whenever I say “strawberry” that he would know to pause and take a deep breath. Since strawberries are his favorite fruit, and he thought a fruity code word was fun, he instantly liked the idea. Over the next week, we used the code word frequently.
I was encouraged to see how much this helped him lower his energy level whenever he was starting to spin out.
This plan worked so well we decided to keep the code word, and not simply use it when he was getting hyper, but anytime a little calming would go a long way, whether he was becoming frustrated with a project, angry at his brother, or starting to overwhelm those around him. Matthew decided the rest of the family should have code words as well, so everyone’s code word became their favorite fruit. My favorite fruit happens to be peaches.
So fast forward to this morning. Chris left town at 3:00 am to lead a retreat out of state. When he woke up my sleep was interrupted. Because my sleep was thrown off, I ended up oversleeping so my sons and I were late getting out the door for preschool. Neither of the boys was exactly cooperating, and being fatigued I felt cranky and began snapping at them. At the breakfast table, I was telling Matthew to put his shoes on in a tone of voice that was less than ideal. It was then Andrew turned to me and said, “Mommy, it sounds like you need some peaches”.
Surprised by this, I paused, took a deep breath, then laughed as I said, “Andrew, do you think Mommy is getting a little snappy and needs to calm down?” In his four-year-old wisdom, he grinned and responded with a, “Yeah.”
That moment of quieting helped me calm down and patiently gather my crew to get out the door. The neat thing about quieting is, well, we all need it! When we are well trained in quieting and recognizing overwhelm in ourselves and others, we will do this automatically. We do not need reminders. However, for many of us, we need to do some remedial work. For those without mastery of these relational skills, those around you can recognize your overwhelm well before you can. In my case, it was my four-year-old who recognized it before me.
While there are moments it may be hard to swallow, I am grateful my kids have a polite and silly way to ask me to “calm down.” This process is also teaching them the importance of recognizing overwhelm in themselves and in others. Andrew recognized that I was overwhelmed, that I was snapping at them. He was able to call me on it and this changed the tone and direction of the morning.
Chris and I are working hard to pass on these skills to our children, even the skills that need more work and require additional practice. We find it encouraging to see the moments our boys “get it.” We want Matthew and Andrew to be experts at quieting and calming themselves when we point it out.
More importantly, we want them to master the harder task of automatically recognizing the need for quiet in themselves and other people when overwhelm levels increase.