Kids can break into full-on tantrums at the drop of a hat, and nearly every parent has been where actor Justin Baldoni found himself this past Father's Day weekend.
Baldoni, who starred in "Jane the Virgin,", was shopping at Whole Foods with his family when his wife, Emily, took this photo.
In it, Baldoni and his father stand patiently by as his daughter Maiya cries. Her little body is face down on the concrete floor, mid-tantrum as the two men look on calmly. And, though surrounded by shoppers, they do not appear to be in a hurry to stop this young girl from expressing her displeasure with whatever might have been going on for her in this moment, nor do they appear embarrassed.
The two men are simply standing by, giving this little girl space and time to feel her feelings.
Baldoni shared some thoughts about the way his father used to treat him when he was growing up along with the photo above.
"My dad always let me feel what I needed to feel, even if it was in public and embarrassing," he wrote.
Father to son, son to daughter. This is how we pass compassion down, generation to generation like a family heirloom.
Here are some of the thoughts Baldoni shared along with the photo:
"I don't remember him (my father) ever saying "You're embarrassing me!" or "Don't cry!" It wasn't until recently that I realized how paramount that was for my own emotional development. Our children are learning and processing so much information and they don't know what to do with all of these new feelings that come up. I try to remember to make sure my daughter knows it's OK that she feels deeply. It's not embarrassing to me when she throws tantrums in the grocery store or screams on a plane. I'm her dad…not yours. Let's not be embarrassed for our children. It doesn't reflect on you. In fact.. we should probably be a little more kind and patient with ourselves too. If we got out everything we were feeling and allowed ourselves to throw tantrums and cry when we felt the need to then maybe we'd also let ourselves feel more joy and happiness. And that is something this world could definitely use a little more of."
We sometimes think it is our job to make our children "happy"; to protect them from feeling things like anger, rage, disappointment, and sadness. But that is not our job at all.
Our job as both parents and educators is to give children the time and tools to explore different emotions as they arise. Emotions are not good nor bad, they just are. They are sacred and allowed.
We can help children notice what it feels like in their bodies to feel happy/mad/calm/sad and so forth and then give a vocabulary to help label those feelings.
When you are mad, what happens to your face … to your arms and legs … to your breath … what urges fill your body?
As we teach our children how to name their emotions, we can then move toward teaching skills of taming feelings through behaviors that respect both themselves and others along the way.
How do we do this?! We do it exactly as modeled in the story above, by example. We do it when we respond instead of react, even when our child is lying face down in the checkout lane.
Teaching children how to be with their feelings is important work, right up there with teaching them their ABC's and their 123's.
As adults, we have the power to teach children that it is safe to tune in and trust what they are feeling through our words and through our actions.
If this story inspires you but, at times, you struggle to find that pause button on life when it's your child that is losing it in the store, I want you to know, nothing is broken. You are not broken and neither is your child.
Most of the time, when experiencing big emotions, children do not understand what or why they are feeling that way, they only know that they do not like it -- that there is an unmet need.
Releasing fear or judgment of what other people may think of our tantruming toddler helps us respond rather than react to our child in the moment.
As one person who commented on the photo said:
“The thing I love about this picture is that I noticed the world continues to move on as Baldoni and his father are standing there. As parents, we often feel as though everyone is looking and judging, which makes us react instead of respond to our children. Sometimes they are but, more often than not, people are too busy with their own stuff to notice what is going on with us.”
When we release the ideals of perfect and step into presence, we are better equipped to be with our child in that moment of need. As we lean into our tantruming toddler, we model some of the big pillars of emotional intelligence … that of self-control and empathy.
The fact is, unlike Baldoni, many people do not grow up with a father or a mother modeling this approach to feelings. More often than not, feelings are shut down, dismissed, denied, or labeled as "too sensitive", weak, and/or bothersome.
So if you find yourself reacting to your own child's emotions, I want you to know that you are likely responding exactly the way you were taught to respond. We are more likely to yell if we were yelled at, lecture if we were lectured, dismiss if we were dismissed … the point is we often model what is modeled. The great news is that, as adults, it is never too late for us to find our own inner pause button.
Self-regulation is a skill and, with practice, it can be learned.
If you'd like to grow your skills when it comes to supporting children in understanding and expressing their big emotions, make talking about your thoughts and feelings a daily, playful practice in your home and you will find yourself naturally being pulled ever closer, not only to your children but to yourself.
And one day, who knows, you might be the grandparent in the picture, standing by as your child parents their child with patience and love, stemming forth from an inner calm that you yourself helped to instill.
Image credit: Justin Baldoni/Facebook