Lessons of Tantrums, Wise Sibling Instincts, & the Healing Power of Empathy

Lessons of Tantrums, Wise Sibling Instincts, & the Healing Power of Empathy


My son Ezra Star woke up sweetly today, pouncing on top of me in bed with all his 65 pounds of naked, sun-kissed, 6 year old love, panting loudly with morning breath into my still half-asleep ear: “Good morning my beautiful Mama Mama Mama!!!” I pulled him close, all of his squirmy, golden deliciousness, and inhaled adoringly his warmth and beauty. But within about 5 minutes, suddenly intensely triggered by remembering some of the routine plans in the field, seized by fierce resistance, aversion, and his own fiery temper, the emotional weather of my little love dramatically changed into a full-on, somewhat uncharacteristic, tantrumming storm.

He was inconsolable. I tried everything– all my loving-mama skills and therapeutic conscious communication skills. I tried listening, affirming his feelings and reflecting with empathy. I tried sitting quietly nearby, emanating compassion. I tried pulling him close, enveloping his inflamed nervous system with deep breaths and strong arms, in spite of his screaming and kicking in volatile resistance. I tried giving him space in his room to find his center. I tried setting limits, and reminding him of the need to get dressed and ready for camp, our important carpooling responsibility. I tried bringing him into the shower with me, knowing how healing water is for him, and left him in there after I was done, the hot water pouring onto his little sobbing body, curled on the shower floor. I tried reflecting to him honestly how his tantrum was impacting our morning space. I tried food– bringing him some protein where he still lay on my bedroom floor, wet from the shower, sobbing and yelling angry words. I lit a candle, burned some sage to clear the field, and spoke out loud a humble prayer for help. I wracked my Mama brain: Did he by some chance have gluten yesterday? How many hours of sleep did he get? Did he have enough protein last night at dinner? What is the deeper emotional pain inside this trigger? What is the deeper need he is trying to voice?

I went downstairs to make breakfast and pack lunches, deeply disturbed by the intense sadness and anger of my beloved boy; my own nerves starting to feel frayed by the impact. He followed slowly behind me and flopped down, half-dressed, onto the couch, still sobbing loudly, his face pressed into one of the couch pillows. It had been about 45 minutes now since it began.

Suddenly, by some stroke of genius, his older sister Arayla (10,) who had been just quietly witnessing this storm, went outside to the bunny hutch, and came back inside holding Ezra’s fuzzy, white baby bunny, Poseidon. She sat down quietly on the floor next to Ezra on the couch, and said gently: “It’s Ok, Poseidon. Ezra is just feeling really sad right now. Ezra? Can you hold your bunny? He’s worried about you. You’re his Papa; his favorite, most special boy. He really needs your love right now.”

I witnessed quietly from the kitchen as Ezra sat up on the couch, red-eyed and puffy, and immediately stopped crying. His face softened as he reached for his little bunny. He pulled Poseidon to his heart and started speaking softly into his small, white, furry ears: “I’m ok, Poseidon. It’s alright, it’s alright. Don’t worry, baby. Everything’s ok.” I watched as his soothing of his own bunny, the nectar of his own love, finally brought him the soothing medicine he was seeking. It was astonishingly beautiful. Immensely moved and appreciative, I mouthed the words: “THANK YOU” to Arayla, who caught my eye, nodding back to me with a grateful look of loving relief on her face. Both of my hands rushed to my aching heart, and my eyes filled with tender tears to receive such a teaching.

I went over and sat with them, gently stroking my boy’s back, and said: “Wow, your love is so powerful. Look at how much he loves when you hold him like that?” He nodded, smiling down at his bunny, and then looked up at me sadly, meeting my eyes, and said, meekly:  “Sorry, Mama. Sorry for my fit. Sorry for my mean words.” My heart felt such overwhelming compassion for him in his humbled remorse. I said simply, deeply: “I love you Ezra.”

Soon Arayla took Poseidon back to the hutch, and the children came to the table and ate their breakfast. I finished packing the lunches, ushered them out the door, and we were only about 10 minutes late for our carpool.

Thank God for the brilliant, intuitive and loving instincts of older siblings like my amazing daughter Arayla Grace. And thank God for the profoundly healing medicine of the furred ones~ how their innocence, their preciousness, their sweet vulnerability never fails to soften and move us. Thank God for the mysterious way our own love, real care and protective empathy for others is sometimes exactly what our own broken hearts need-~ to discover perspective, to bring us out of our own suffering, and call us to a fresh moment of love.

Thank you Spirit. Thank you so much for these beautiful children, these wisdom teachings they constantly deliver, and for my own tenderly receptive, resilient heart, which continuously breaks more deeply open inside this vulnerable, humbling path of human loving. Thank you. Thank you.

Photo Credit: Lone Morch