A sure fire way to help a little fighter

2016 was a whirlwind in many different ways. We all witnessed one of the most tumultuous elections most of us have ever experienced.

Those of us in Tallahassee literally were in the “whirlwind” of Hurricane Hermine.

My family packed up and moved our stuff to Tallahassee a short seven months after we packed it up to leave Tallahassee. On a personal note, this was my favorite whirlwind of the year.

But one other wild, whirlishy thing happened. Our sweet little girl started to get…not so sweet.

She fermented. She soured. She puckered around the edges.

It started at the end of first grade. One week left in the school year and I got the call from her teacher that she had punched another child on the playground. Confirmation as to whether the hit was to another kids stomach or nether regions was still unclear, but regardless of where that hit landed, it was still a direct hit.

In second grade, we have received notification not once, but twice, that our sweet little seven year old used her hands to vent her emotions at school.

All three times our Ayla was full of righteous indignation. The other kid was picking on someone else, making fun of her directly, or trying to throw away the reusable parts of her lunchbox (which was perhaps the most humbling incident. I told my daughter to be sure to bring back those pieces, never thinking that another kid would try to throw them in the trash during clean-up time and my daughter would lash out with a swift punch-shove move).

What was happening? Was it time to go to counseling? Was she incapable of using her words? Good gracious, was the modern notion that Hands are for Helping, not Hurting going to be completely lost on this child?

Frustration, concern and other emotions were at an all time high. And if truth be told, a little curiosity was present too. Were these other kids really making poor choices that our daughter felt as though she needed to police? Or was this all a fabrication?

Then, her teacher swooped in like a fairy godmother with a magic wand in the form of a pen. She worked with our little miss on coping skills and they strategized ways to deal with anger. We are in our fourth week back at school after Christmas and so far, so good.

What was the answer?

Write about how you feel.

(Oh yes, her teacher was able to get her to write in her journal about how she was feeling, much more so than I was. It takes a village!)

Permission was given to write whatever she wants, with whatever she wants, and with as much emotion as she wants. She has started using this solution at home as well as at school. I have discovered messages on the white board to the effect of “Jude always gets what he wants” and “Mom and Dad are being mean to me today – and I’m so ANGRY!”

Recently she has started to increase speckle these public declarations with more colorful vocabulary. She wrote last week in one journal that something at school made her “sangry” – you know mom? A mix of sad and angry?

Yes, Ayla, I do know.

One night, after being told that it was not a good time to paint because we were getting ready for bed, she disappeared into her room, gave a good scream into her pillow, and then was quiet. When I went in to check on her she was sitting on the floor, writing in her journal. “Parents are the crushers of dreams.”

A little dramatic, but at least she didn’t nail me with a left-hook.

Her journal is becoming her place that she goes to process, and I won’t hold that against her. After she writes and gets it out of her system, she feels better. She is calm and able to rejoin the family, or classroom. She is better able to articulate what has been troubling her. She is more likely to work together to find a solution.

At some point I’ll share with her the joy of ripping up those pages, or burning them, to create the wonderful sensation of letting go…

Sara Marchessault is a writer, publisher, teacher, and mom who is on a mission to increase joy on the planet. Through the practice of self-reflection, we become aware of what brings us joy and what does not, and we make choices to move forward or stand still. Journal writing is a powerful reflection tool that can help any of us move forward, even in the darkest of times. For ideas on how you can get the benefits of journal writing without always keeping a traditional journal, check out Sara’s book, Beyond Pen & Paper: 33 Experiments in Journaling.

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