It struck me recently that one of the main differences between my two children is the behaviour they exhibit when they are upset about something. Amy makes is abundantly (and loudly) clear what is upsetting her. I don’t think I’ve ever had to guess. Elliot shuts off when he’s upset, and does not want to talk. And I often have no clue as to why he’s upset. I can see when he becomes upset, but not why. Saying he doesn’t want to talk isn’t exactly accurate, either. He often says something while he’s crying that is really difficult to understand and I’m fairly certain he does it on purpose. It feels very much like he’s manipulating me when he’s angry.
Tonight was a perfect example. The kids and I were at a BBQ with our neighbours, and I was offered a sparkling fruit juice. I accepted, opened it up and started drinking it. Amy asked me if she could try it and I gave her a sip. Elliot came up a couple of minutes later and asked as well. Both kids don’t tend to like fizzy drinks, so I warned both of them before they tried it. When I gave Elliot his warning he burst into tears and stalked off. When I approached him, he told me to go away (which is common when he’s angry and something I find difficult to deal with).
What followed was typical. I approached him a couple of times, asking him what was wrong, and he would either cry and say something non-intelligible or stalk away from me. Sometimes this really pisses me off, sometimes I can be patient. Tonight it pissed me off and while I managed to keep my cool, I did tell him he had two choices: he could sit and sulk or he could tell me what was wrong and we could talk about it. Then I left him. He spent about 20 minutes pouting, but he eventually came over and joined us. He didn’t join me, he joined our neighbour’s daughter. And a little while later he was fine.
When this happens I have started talking to him about it later, when tempers have cooled. I did that tonight, and when I asked him what was wrong he got a bit weird on me but he did tell me. Apparently he had asked our neighbour for one of the fizzy drinks, and was told he could have one if it was okay with me. When he came over to me when I had the drink, it was to ask if he could have one. But he didn’t ask. He instead asked me if he could try it. And when I told him it was fizzy he interpreted that as a “no” and got upset. While I don’t fully understand his logic, I’m happy he can tell me about it later, as this hasn’t always been the case. I told him that I had had no idea why he was upset, and if he had told me right at the time, my response would have been a yes, and he would have gotten his drink. He changed the subject because he gets uncomfortable talking about this stuff, but before I let him change it, I asked him if he understood. He said yes, and we moved on.
As I said above, I do feel like he tries to manipulate me when he’s angry. Another scenario is when we excuse him from the dinner table for bad behaviour (which doesn’t happen very often) and ask him to go to his room until he’s ready to join us. He then doesn’t come back down, gets very upset, and when we eventually go up to talk to him he turns our words around and says we told him he couldn’t come back down. I’m a bit at a loss as to how to deal with it, but I have started trying to turn it back to him, and telling him that he’s making the choice to hear the words differently. Needless to say, this doesn’t go well in the heat of the moment.
Elliot’s anger has always been his hardest emotion for me to know how to navigate. I want to help him, yet often my own anger gets in the way. I think we may be making progress, but I think we still have a long way to go.