The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

August 22, 2013

Sarah Coyne: This mantra helps define, deal with disasters

JOPLIN, Mo. — I say it to the little girl whose ponytail is too tight.

I say it to the second-grader who is furious about being served her least-favorite dinner.

I say it to the sisters who cannot agree on who will get to wear the coveted sequined butterfly shirt to a birthday party.

"This is not a disaster," I say.

In their dramatic little hearts, my daughters are usually convinced that some terrible and irreparable damage is about to befall them, ruining their lives forever. They go from calm to devastatingly victimized in two blinks of a long-lashed eyelid.

Once upon a time, I had a plan to affirm their emotions long enough for them to feel validated. I had a plan to let them know that it was OK to feel affronted, harmed or sickeningly frustrated, but that it was not OK to act out those feelings to the detriment of their surroundings.

Especially if their surroundings included any other humans, because fits of diva-like drama will neither gain them sympathy nor friends Ñ at least not the kind of friends anybody wants to spend time with.

And I still feel like those plans are worthwhile to some extent. Children do need to know that their emotions are honest and that it's OK to feel them. They need to know that their emotional outbursts affect the world in which they live.

Sometime over this long summer at home, though, I started to give up my own peacefulness in order to combat the kids' default sense of frailty. The act of teaching my children that extreme bouts of emotional turmoil are not necessary was having a tendency to plunge me into my own extreme bouts of emotional turmoil.

Instead of spending time wondering if that was an ironic bit of comeuppance or simply a ridiculous lesson in immaturity, I had to find a way to keep myself calm in the face of my children's moods.

Enter this handy mantra: I've been saying "this is not a disaster" to my kids for so long that it's started to sink in to my own thinking as well. Now, on top of promising my little ones that the world is not ending, I'm also reminding myself that their emotions are not cause for a motherhood freak-out.

I say it to myself when the 5-year-old spills her juice over the edge of the kitchen table.

I say it to myself when the toddler dumps an entire container of cat food onto my bedroom carpet.

I say it to myself when I forget the sack lunches on the first day of school.

Because if there's anything I've learned so far about raising kids, it's that what I say matters very little and what I do matters very much.

If my children watch me keeping control of my emotions while the world seems to be melting into chaos right outside our door, they will absorb that sense of calm more than any words I could speak in the heat of the moment. They'll learn that every accident, affront and hardship can be met with acceptance, humor and forbearance.

And, I hope, they'll outgrow the habit of gnashing teeth and rending garments the next time they find the seat belt too difficult to operate or the oatmeal too hot to be consumed. Because these are not disasters.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.blog spot.com.

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