“That” Child: their raging, our exhaustion and Oreo cookies!
Rage. It’s very intense, and it’s embarrassing when it’s happening to you, you can’t believe it. I know as a young mother, I was like “I didn’t sign up for this, this isn’t what I wanted”. I couldn’t believe that it was happening, and I always wanted to go “Shh! Shh shh!” when it was happening. And I’ll be honest, it happened a lot. My oldest son was my original “that” child, I had that one first, and I learned so much for which I am retrospectively grateful, but at the time I was just mortified at the way he’d rage.
If you have a ‘that’ child that’s doing this raging, I want you to know this: you’re not alone. Say it with me: NOT ALONE. There are others of us that have these kids that just rage, and we don’t understand it, and it’s kinda terrifying. But I want to tell you this: they’re not broken…
What I know now, and I didn’t know then, is that often they’ve just got so much bottled up inside of them. So many ideas, so much they want to say, so much they want to do, so much frustration, so much creativity. It can all just bottle up in their little body and they don’t know how to navigate all that.
I would actually describe Charles, when he was younger, as the proverbial volcano. And he would blow all the time, it was completely unpredictable. And yes, it had seismic consequences for the rest of us when he’d do it. But it was not unusual for him to rage not just once a day, but multiple times a day.
I remember one day in particular, he was two and a half and his next sibling, younger brother Anderson, was just a baby. I had just changed Anderson on the floor in our bedroom where I had this little changing station. Charles went into a rage and actually ran into the bedroom where that baby was on the floor and locked the door. I was terrified, because I didn’t know what he might to do the baby on the floor. I was shaking trying to get the latch to unlock the door to get in there. I’m so grateful he didn’t even try to do anything to the baby but he was running around the room just screaming…
Mom, you have to know that you’re not alone if that’s happening to you. Not even close to being alone. At the time when he would go into these rages, he would yell and scream these things that didn’t make any sense. Like something had gone off inside him and he couldn’t stop. I felt very compassionate towards him, I felt like I needed to do something in that moment to help him, I didn’t think it would be healthy for him to just continue to run around in circles. So what I did, and what seemed to be very effective with him at the time, is I’d take him into my arms to restrain him even in the midst of his yelling and screaming. I would sit on the floor with him, and put my hands between one of his legs, and I’d put my arm down to hold my leg, and I’d just rock him back and forward and he would just yell and scream and yell and scream and all I knew to do was to sing to him.
There we would sit, Charles in a rage, and I would sing “Peace perfect peace”, I would sing “holy holy holy”, I would sing “Jesus loves me” and just rock him. Sometimes it took every verse of every hymn I could think of in that moment… it did work though and he would finally let go. I’m guessing you know what that’s like mom, if you have one of these kids. You know that’s what they do.
He just had to let it run its course and completely wear himself out. And on the other side of it he was just physically… done and just completely drained. We would both be crying by the time it was done because it’s just so intense for both of us. I know that if this is happening at your house its intense for you too. I wish I could just give you a hug, mama, I wish I could just somehow assure you with more than just my words through a screen. But I want to tell you this: you’re not alone and its not your imagination.
What you need to make sure that you’re communicating in those moments with ‘that’ kid is that you love them, and that you’re on their team. You want to be as much of a calming effect as you can possibly be. Yelling? Screaming at them? Thats only going to make it worse. That’s not blessing them, that’s not helping them, that’s not meeting them where they are.
One of the wonderful things I love about scripture and Jesus in the New Testament throughout the gospels is He always met the people where they were. I mean that’s glorious! Obviously, there were occasions like the sermon on the mount where the people came to Him, but there were so many other examples where He actually met the another person right where they were.
I think when our kids are raging, we should step back and imagine what its like to be them. Haven’t you ever wanted to throw a fit? Haven’t you ever wanted to throw yourself in the middle of the floor and just yell and scream because things aren’t going your way? Of course you have, just like I have! What we need to give to them in that moment is a whole lot of compassion, and a whole lot of grace. Just like our Father gives us in our ugly moments. Just be there with your precious child, in that moment.
Hold them, calm them. Don’t contribute to it! Because you know what? They can’t, they just cant…
I don’t know if this will terrify you or encourage you, but I want to tell you that, generally with “that” child, it doesn’t necessarily go away with age. It might morph become a more sophisticated rage. As they age it’s probably not so much the yelling and screaming and running around in circles. Often it becomes this emotional pit that you just can’t believe you’re in the middle of. I mean surely I’m speaking to somebody out there when I say that nobody prepared me for a twelve year old boy. They can be so incredibly challenging. They’ve still got all those ideas, They’ve still got all those frustrations. They’ve still got all of this energy, and now they’ve got all the hormones too. God has wired them this way, and one of the primary things they need from us is our acceptance. They need to know that we get them. If we’re continually fighting with them about the way God made them, what does that say about God? What does that say about them? What does that say about us?
I think the most powerful thing we can do for them is to really be for them and with them in that moment.
My current “that” child and I had a moment earlier this summer where he just took a left turn and started spinning out of control. Everyone was against him and everyone was mad at him, and nobody understood him. (Side note: I think that language is a cue to us moms, the “Everybody”, “always”, ”never”, “nobody”, “all the time”, “every time”, and it just keeps going on and on. You and I know it’s not true, but they can’t think it through.) So in this moment, he couldn’t think clearly and he couldn’t stay on topic. He kept coming back to something that didn’t matter over and over and over.
It was well past my bedtime when it started, I was literally in my pajamas. He had had a conflict with his brother in another room, and he comes into my room angry. At this point I’m halfway to sleep, eight o’clock is my bed time so I was out. But Davis and I got up so we could engage. You can’t really engage when you’re horizontal. So we’re up, and we’re just keep cycling and going through the same thing over and over. And Davis was speaking at a conference first thing in the morning so I said, “Look, you need to go to bed. I’m here”
I literally sat on the floor with my child for two and a half hours. I was telling him how much I love him, going through that same conversation over, and over, and over and over. I sat there, in my pajamas, into the night because that’s what we get to do. Did you catch that? Thats what we get to do. We get to be with them in that moment of total and utter frustration. We get to be with them and show them love and compassion.
We get to experience the holy sovereign God’s mighty patience with us, that we know we don’t have in that moment.
Trust me, when this starts happening, I want to yell and scream myself. I really do. I want to get all frustrated, and say things that should never be said. But when I don’t do those things, I get to experience the holy spirit coming, and giving me strength I don’t have in and of myself. You know what I’m doing the whole time? I’m praying “God give me discernment, God give me grace, give me eyes to see what I cant see, open my ears to what I can’t hear.”
When we do that with that kid, we’re communicating a level of love to them that is just immeasurable and invaluable. So I want to invite you to reframe this. I get that it’s frustrating. Lets just all admit it and give that one a big hug. But the God of the universe has a plan to shape you through this, and to shape that child through this.
I have been so shaped through this, I am sooo grateful. I am so grateful, if I had never had “that” child, I would’ve thought I was a fabulous mom. If I had only ever had my other kids that are compliant, and obedient, I would’ve thought I was amazing! I would’ve had more judgement than anybody should ever have for anybody else because I would’ve thought it was all about me and my skills as the world’s greatest mom. It has been through having “that” child, that God has taught me and He’s broken me.
I now know all I have is Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Heavenly Father to help me do what I knew I couldn’t do.
Look, along the way I learned some things I didn’t know so I want to go over a few of the potential reasons behind the rage.
- It’s chemistry
They’re a chemical project. They have chemicals in their body that are simply not balanced. We found out that with Charles by keeping a journal. Red food coloring and cinnamon would actually trigger Charles rages.
One morning we were having cinnamon rolls for breakfast on a Sunday, and he actually threw a plate at me! It was pretty evident that there was something chemically inside of him, that didn’t know how to process red food coloring and cinnamon.
I don’t know what that is for your “that” child but it’s worth keeping a journal to see if you find any trend or pattern..
Another thing is that affects “that child” is stress. They have stress that they can’t always process. What complicates this is they don’t have the communication skills that you and I have, to say “I’m stressed” and “I can’t handle anymore” So the combination of the stress, and the lack of communication skills, makes for a messy cocktail when they’ve got both of those going on at the same time. And so again our compassion, and our ability to be the mature one and not reduce ourselves, and not give into our stress like they are. We just need to keep breathing in the midst of it.
The hormone thing is not something to be underestimated. When all those hormones coursing through their veins, and all those changes are going on and they’ve got all this going on in their head, it’s just a very intense time for them.
The first book I read in high school was “to kill a mockingbird”, and it just became my favorite book of all time. In it, Atticus Finch talks about the value of walking around in someone else’s shoes. Mom, I want to invite you to consider what it’s like to be “that” kid. I promise you, it’s not easy. They feel all the stress, they feel this need to communicate something. They know they can’t, and they don’t like it. But, they don’t know what else to do.
When I first started with my “that child”, it was all about me and I was so embarrassed and I felt ashamed and I was sure I was a failure. But I’ve learned so much since then. Please, please put yourself in your child’s shoes. What are they going through? How did we get here? What have they eaten? What stressors are going on with them? Because what I’ve found “that” child needs consistency like nobody’s business. And that’s hard. It’s hard with one, it’s hard with two, three, four, five, six or seven.
I know you’re wondering, “What does an Oreo cookie have to do with ‘that’ child?” Well, let me tell you. And before any of you email me or comment saying I should not eat these, I want to assure you that I cannot possibly keep these at my home because I would become an Oreo cookie. I do love them but I don’t eat them often at all, probably biannually.
I want you to think about an Oreo cookie: you’ve got two chocolates, and the creamy stuff in the middle. It’s actually the original sandwich cookie right? So that’s what you’ve got here, and now I want to give you some tools to deal with the raging, whether it’s young or old, and to deal with your exhaustion.
First of all, I want to challenge you to surrender to the Lord. That’s right. It may sound trite, you may say “Rachael, I’ve already done that”. Well, I’m saying do it again. Surrender to God, and start every day praying and saying “This is your day, have it your way. This is your kid, teach me who they are for your kingdom. Equip me to be the mom, that that kid needs me to be.”
Surrender to God every day.
Next, if this raging thing is pretty basic and on going in your home, I want to challenge you to plan a conversation. Yes, there’s no point in going through this cycle over and over again. I want you to plan to have a conversation with “that” kid about the raging. Now, it’s very important that you make sure they know this isn’t about punishment. This is not you intimidating, this is not about “hey, you’re in trouble”. This is you saying “Hey, I want to have a conversation with you. Do you have some time this afternoon?” Or, if they’re younger than than go “Hey, let’s make some cookies” or “Lets cut up an apple” or “Lets sit on the porch. I’d like to talk to you about something.” And frame it as positively as you possibly can. Build anticipation! If it’s an older child say something like “Lets go for a drive” and they’ll say “Oh cool what are we gonna talk about?” And you can reply “That’ll be a surprise! I’ve been really wanting to spend some time with you and I’m really looking forward to it!”
So you’re planning this conversation; they’re excited and looking forward to it. I want you to plan to discuss four things:
- Bless your child
I want you to tell them you’re so grateful that God sent them to live at your house and in your family. Tell them you’re so excited about the young man or young woman they’re turning out to be.
- Praise your child
“So what do you think are a few things that are going really well right now?” and then give an idea or two that you can see. Find some positives and really talk about how your child is doing well! I promise, you can find them. And if and you can’t, ask God and He’ll show you something. Find SOMETHING that they’re doing real well.
- Ask your child
“Can you think of some things you need to work on? Some areas that need some improvement?” Look, that kid knows they’re raging. They’re not going to be surprised, and they’re probably going to be the one to bring it up; you probably won’t even have to!
- Ask your child
“How do you think I can help?” Don’t jump in immediately with a solution. Be quiet and listen. That’s right, just listen to what they have to say. They might say “I have no idea what you could do to help” or you know what, they might say “When I’m doing that, I’d really appreciate it if you’d stop asking me questions. Or if I could just go to my room for a few minutes. Or maybe I could just walk around the house for a few minutes” They probably have some ideas on what you could do to help them! And some of the things they might suggest, might hurt a little bit. But I want to dare you, listen. And listen. And see what you can learn about that kid. Ask how it makes them feel, or maybe even ask how you think you’re contributing to the problem (if you dare). And I promise you they’re gonna tell you, and it’s going to be an amazing time.
I found that with my oldest son, when I dared to have this conversation when he was fairly young, he totally got it! He knew that he was raging, he knew that he was out of control, but he didn’t know what to do to stop it. Giving him a setting in which he could have that conversation, was powerful for him.
Affirm for them how difficult it is to deal with stress, how difficult it is to deal with frustrations. How difficult it is to deal with change or when things don’t go as planned. Affirm that you too get frustrated, and exhausted. That you too get frustrated when things don’t work out. Remind them that you’re in this together, that’s the number one thing you wanna communicate. You’re on their team against this problem of rage. It’s not you, against them, against the rage. It’s you and them against the rage, shoulder to shoulder. I told my that child, and they one I’ve got going now, “You’re stuck with me, you can’t lose me in a crowd. I’m determined, we’re gonna fight this out together.” Make sure you communicate, that you are on their team.
Next, strategize how you can work this out. When “that” kid is starting to feel those feelings coming up inside and let me tell you, they can feel it coming on. Strategize some terminology so they can come to you and say “I’m feeling off, it’s coming on” just pick a phrase or a word they can say to you or you can say to them when you see it beginning. The phrase I used with my oldest son was “You’re getting close to the edge” And often time when I would say that to him, not always but often times, it was like a wakeup call for him. And sometimes he would just come to me and say “I’m off”
Your “that” kid needs to have permission to come to you and have a timeout of their own. A self-initiated timeout. They don’t want to rage so give them permission to come to you, or to go to their room, or go for a walk, or even just take a rest. Something positive or constructive they can do to avoid going into that rage.
And the last thing, you need to pray together. Make sure the first time you’re praying, that you’re surrendering to God. This isn’t just you and God in this last step, this is you praying WITH that child. If they need anything from you, aside from their compassion, they need you to pray with them.
So back to our Oreo cookie. You’re going to pray, you’re going to do the conversation in between, and you’re going to pray on the other side too, just like this Oreo. I cannot guarantee this will be a one-time conversation. In fact, I can promise you’re going to have this conversation over and over and over and it’s worth it. So just resolve to dig in, resolve to have compassion, and resolve to persevere as you raise your world changer.