Tiny Frustration

Our little boy unleashed all of his pent up frustration tonight. Oddly enough his thirty minute rant, which started just when I wanted him to go to bed, began with his proclamation that he wanted to graduate from college when he was 17.

The proclamation unfolded from a protracted line of questions.

“Dad?”

“Yes, Ethan?”

“If, uh, if, um, if I did, if I got 100s on every test, could I graduate from college when I was 18?”

“Absolutely. If that’s what you want. You just have to work really, really hard at school.”

Inside I was thrilled to hear this out of my boy. My biggest worry for the near term was that he was not going to take school seriously. At this moment, however, Ethan wasn’t done.

“But did I tell you?” he began. Ethan was so emotional about what he was about to tell me that he could not even get through the first sentence.

“See, today in class, Mrs. Weyand, she, when she, when, when she. We were sitting on the carpet, and Mrs. Weyand had a phone call.”

He stopped and became more focused.

“When she went to answer the phone everybody on the carpet started talking and they’re not supposed to do that. We’re supposed to be quiet on the carpet. Then Shane kept on doing things; he made me talk.”

“He made you talk?” I asked.

“Yes. He made me.”

“Well you know he didn’t make you do anything. It was how you chose to react.”

“I know, but everyone is talking and no one is letting me get my work done. The other day everyone was talking, and the art teacher got really upset and I was going to be the next one to choose what we worked on for art, and because everyone was talking I didn’t get to choose. I just want to do my school work, and the only kids in my class who want to do their work are me, Mimi, Jake.”

“Oh. I see.” I calmly said.

He was so upset about what was happening, or what had just happened at school. But this is also the mind and memory of a seven year old boy who, while very even keel on the outside on a day-to-day basis, is also very emotional inside, he just doesn’t like to show anybody. He gets embarrassed when he makes mistakes, and hates to admit when he’s wrong. Because of this he tends to bottle up little events from school and eventually they all gush out when either he’s reached a breaking point or because some other trigger leads him to vent his frustration.

Today’s outburst went on for far longer than previous episodes.

Previous venting would last for two or three minutes, after which he would keep repeating the same mantra, looking for validation, and, really, guidance for how to deal with his emotions. This time the venting lasted for twenty minutes. Twenty. And while his frustrations all revolved around the same theme – his peers not focusing on their school work – the details and anecdotes covered at least fifteen different events.

So Ethan ranted, and ranted, and slowly, very slowly, he started to unwind, and slowly, very slowly, his eyes began to fill with tears. He finally, slowly, curled up in my wife’s lap, and very lightly started to cry.

He didn’t need a big cry, he just needed to know that it was OK to be sad, OK to be upset, OK to feel like he could talk to his family about this, and that they would be there to make him feel safe.

 

RJ Lavallee is the author of IMHO (In My Humble Opinion): a guide to the benefits and dangers of today’s communication tools on sale at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and lulu.com.