This is hard. I need help.
My son is struggling. School is scary. Reading is hard. We are together all the time. He misses going out, buying toys, being too small to think about school and reading and global pandemics. (I can totally relate.) He was terrified at the thought of going to school this fall, but he is not thrilled with the homeschooling alternative, either. Meltdowns ensue.
I’ve been trying to teach him to breathe through bad feelings. I showed him how much worse he feels when he does not allow himself to breathe, and how much better he feels when he takes a few deep breaths. Full disclosure: This took quite a bit of effort on my part. The first dozen or so times I talked him through this, he resisted. Said it was stupid. Flat-out refused to participate, or made snoring noises, or walked away. I wasn’t sure I’d gotten through to him at all until I watched him telling his stuffed animal in a soothing voice to breathe through his scared. That’s how you know you’ve gotten through: When your words come out at playtime.
Still, while deep breathing helps with fearful anxiety, it’s not a cure-all. When fear boils over into anger, breathing isn’t always enough.
After butting heads with Daddy over a reading lesson, Kai stormed into my office. Daddy was MEAN and he was MAD and he was NEVER going back out there, NOT EVER.
There is no bathroom in my office, so that plan wasn’t going to fly.
“Why are you mad?” I asked.
“Daddy is mean!”
“Why do you say that?”
“He made me read! And I told him I could not read, but he made me do it anyway!”
(I just introduced reading last week. The book series he’s reading has 1-5 words per page, for 6 pages. Lots of rhyming and repetition. I’m easing him into it, and he’s doing great, but he’s still nervous.)
“You read the other day. Was this book harder?”
“And you need help?”
“Those are some big feelings. I get it. Can you do something for me? (He angrily sucked in a belly breath and blasted it back in my face.) I want you to say three words. Will you do that?”
No reply, but a curious look.
“I want you to say, ‘This is hard.'”
“This is HARD.”
“Good! Then I want you to say, ‘I need help.'”
(softly) “I need help.”
“Now say them together. ‘This is hard. I need help.'”
“This is hard. I need help.”
I brought him the book, and with very little prompting on my part, he read it. Then again.
“Next time you feel this way, I want you to say those words. Okay? And I promise you we will help.”
“Okay,” he replied, and slipped out the door, his mad forgotten.
It sounds so simple, but I am 46 years old and I still struggle with those six words. This is hard. I need help. Here’s hoping he does better with them than I.