Tantrums, Tears And The Search For Compassion

Fearless has been impossible lately.  In one school day he managed to misplace his language arts book (the second one because he already  lost the first), pencil box, water bottle, and lunchbox.  Each was retrieved separately after a massive rescue effort .  I can’t necessarily blame him because I would lose my head if it weren’t attached to my body; but together with his increased forgetfulness came a slew of difficult behaviors.

Fearless, who is six, decided he no longer wants to go with the flow.  He throws a tantrum when asked to put on his backpack to go to school, but he also throws one when it’s time to go home.  We are constantly late because it’s a battle to go from point A to point B.

Fearless in his "NO" mode.

Fearless in his “NO” mode.

“Fearless get your clothes on.”



“Fearless let’s go to school, park, pool, mars”.

“NO, no, no and no.”


“Fearless we are having this for dinner.”

“I don’t want that.”


“Fearless let’s do homework .”

“I hate homework.”


I love him, but God bless us all.

I am was a teacher and I know better than to lose my patience.  I know a child who acts this unreasonably is one who needs something – something I am failing to give.

His brother on the other hand, has gone to the other extreme.  He’s always careful about his belongings, but lately he is so calm and helpful, I don’t quite know how to react.

Dreamer, who turned eight this week, wanted a new rock star necklace to go with his electric guitar.  So on Sunday we went to a store and each boy got a necklace.  On Monday, Fearless was in one of his moods as we left the library.  He took off his necklace, turned it into a lasso, and eventually the whole thing fell apart leaving Fearless with an empty nylon string.


I know when Fearless cries for show and when his cry is heartfelt.

Post lasso/necklace debacle as we were late for golf.

Post lasso/necklace debacle

Seeing his brother so sad, Dreamer comforted him: “Don’t worry, I’ll give you mine.”

“NO.” I screamed.  “He needs to learn that he needs to take care of his things. If he breaks a school book, I need to replace it, but a necklace? That was a gift? No way.”

“Mami, I’m just trying to help him!” Dreamer explains.


And so we were late to golf class.  In the meantime I wondered: why am I yelling at the helpful kid?

The uber helpful birthday boy.

The uber helpful birthday boy.

On Wednesday when I picked up Fearless at school, we had our usual scuffles and once again, his language arts book was missing.   After some to-do, we saw his teacher with his book.   And she very kindly told him:

“You are a smart kid.  You always surprise me with your answers when we talk, but you need to focus. Remember I asked you where the book was before you left, you need to have it with you always.” She then pat him on the head and smiled.

Her kindness and patience didn’t surprise me; she is a great teacher. What took me aback was Fearless’ response.  He was calm and even smiled.  Had I been part of this scenario, there would be angry tears coming from the peanut gallery.

Granted, children are different with their teachers than with their parents but watching her kindness and his response was a mirror of what I wasn’t doing; I was past the point of compassion, and onto the point of irritation.  As much as I hate to admit it, I wanted payback for all the upset and tardiness he had been causing.  I wanted him to get over this little phase of his, and I didn’t want to help him through it.

Until last night.

Dreamer was fast asleep, and Fearless came out of the room.  Instead of losing my patience and sending him back igniting yet another struggle I decided to lay down with him for five minutes.  He smiled, hugged and kissed me and asked:

“Mami, will you marry me?”

I explained mami’s don’t marry their sons, but I would always be there for him.  And his stiff body relaxed while his eyelids grew heavy; he melted in my arms.  I kissed him and got up to leave when he turned around and said:

“I love you Mami. You are the best Mami in the world.” And this time I cried.

“I love you too honey.”

Fearless sleeping after his marriage proposal.

Fearless sleeping after his marriage proposal.

This morning we had the following scenario:

“Fearless put on your shoes.”

“Can you put them on for me?”

Pause. This is the moment where the tension lives.  You can sense it as a hole in the time-space continuum where as a mom you make a choice.

Do I say “No, you are old enough to put on your shoes, I need to finish getting lunch ready” and begin the struggle that will inevitably end in a tantrum, tears, and a tardy pass? Or do I have empathy, understanding what he needs now is compassion and someone to help him with his shoes?

Today I chose compassion, and magically the morning went better.   I realize sometimes the word “No” just slips out of my mouth for no apparent good reason; it’s my parenting gut reaction.  But if I stop long enough to realize that this little guy needs extra attention, then I can say yes more often.  This is not a phase for total discipline; it’s one for love.  I don’t know how long it will last, but my bet is that compassion will lead us through it with less struggle.  Because as impossible as Fearless is, it is impossible not to love the spunk that is in him which turns a necklace into a lasso – even if it ends in tears.

Getting back to happy mornings ....

Getting back to happy mornings ….


5 thoughts on “Tantrums, Tears And The Search For Compassion

  1. How absolutely adorable they look in your pictures!

    I like the idea of taking a moment to BREATHE, exhaling a couple of times, and then choosing the response. Can’t say I follow that successfully all the time, but it is another way…

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