I know it's not going to surprise anyone when I say that my #1 challenge as a parent is helping Sam control his emotions. I'm not an overly emotional person, and it's hard to be a stoic-suck-it-up type of mother with a child who feels every emotion intensely. I'm of two minds about his outbursts. On the one hand, they drive me crazy, and frequently, I'd like nothing more than to don sound-proofed earmuffs and ignore him completely. But on the other hand, there are benefits to feeling everything deeply, and when Sam isn't wallowing in the throes of misery, he's a really sweet kid--very sensitive, creative, intuitive, snugly. In truth, I don't want to squelch his emotional life. All I really want is for him to realize that even though he feels something in a big way, he doesn't always have to have a big reaction to make his feelings known.
With that in mind, I talked to Sam about his reactions. There are green reactions--the sort we want him to have--where he uses his words and discusses the things that bother him calmly. Yellow reactions are whiny or defiant. Red reactions are aggressive, irrational, full-on tantrums. And since Sam needs to experience things for himself, I designed him a board game with red, yellow, and green spaces and wrote up situation cards that tend to trigger an outburst (ie. You want the green bowl at lunch, but Mom gives it to John instead). Depending on which color space he lands on, he has to act out a green, yellow, or red reaction. My hope is that if he acts out yellow and red reactions, he will recognize what he's doing the next time he has one, and will try to dial things down. Also, by modeling and practicing green reactions, he's learning the sort of reactions he should be having.
Now instead of telling him non-specifically that I don't like his reaction to something, I tell him, "That's a yellow reaction, Sam." Or "You are being very red at the moment, Sir."
We've had several good days since I instituted the green/yellow/red talk and the board game, but today Sam just lost it when I sliced an apple for him and mid-slice he decided he'd prefer it whole. That escalated from yellow to red, and when I took him to his room to calm down, he purposefully peed on his bed. Instead of going nuts about it, I pointed out that he had moved up to red, made him strip his bed, clean up his mess, and change his clothes. Then I told him he was either a very mean boy or very tired, but either way, he needed to spend some time in his room. I left him there, he calmed down, we had a calm discussion about what he'd done that was yellow and what he'd done that was red, I asked him to apologize, and he's re-grouped since then.
If things keep going like they have been, I'm hopeful that, this year, we're all going to have a better summer.