Walking with a 56-year-old toddler

My beautiful three-nager granddaughter has gone past the age where she thinks I’m great all the time.

Unlike her little brother, who I can often snap out of a grizzle just by playing peek-a-boo with him, when she’s having a minor meltdown about life she doesn’t want me anywhere near her with my “How about we do this…?” suggestions, and tells me to sling my hook in no uncertain terms. 

She eventually moves through the bad mood and meets me sweetly on the other side of it to play with puzzles etc, but not until she’s yelled about how unfair life is and has flung teddies around for a while.

Standard pre-school behaviour!

The thing is, it’s also standard adult behaviour at times, except instead of flinging teddies, we fling our negative thoughts around. 

You’d think as a coach I’d be above that kind of thing, but I’m not. 

Sometimes, I’m just not in the mood to be cheered up instantly, and I get this perverse need to wallow in my crappy thoughts.

It’s not a nice way to feel, but there are times when I’m just not receptive to positive suggestions.

Thankfully, Kev knows how to deal with me when I’m like that, and likewise I’ll offer him the same understanding when he needs to process negativity. 

We dealt with a dose of thought-tantrums on a walk recently. 

Kev was wrestling with a negative state. 

I couldn't seem to help him feel better, no matter how many suggestions I came up with. 

He was struggling with a brief spell of inexplicable low mood, and my natural reaction was to go into coaching mode, and he just wasn’t up for it. 

(Believe me, when you’re in a grump that you feel compelled to stay in, the last person you want around is a chirpy coach!)

My final suggestion, when I realised he wasn’t in the mood to think positively, was to not talk until we get to the coffee van which we’d meet a couple of miles down the track, so I told him my plan because I didn’t want him to think I was in a huff with him.

He grumpily said, “Whatever…” and I knew at that point I needed to put a bit of physical distance between us or I’d be in danger of getting sucked into his thought-swamp, so I stopped and allowed him to get a few metres ahead before I started walking again. 

I knew I needed to stop focusing on trying to help him and get my head in a really good place.

After a few minutes he realised I was quite a long way behind him, he stopped and waited for me. 

I have to chuckle about the next bit, because anyone listening into our conversation would have thought I was a tree-hugging hippy:

I shouted to him, “I’m getting some distance because I’m protecting my energy!”

I knew Kev would know what I meant, but I also knew it sounded wanky - being able to laugh at yourself is crucial in such situations! 

He waited for me to catch up and we walked in silence for a while. 

He knew I'd reached the point where his negative mood had started to impact me, and he respected my need for mental space, so he stopped talking about how bad he felt. 

We could have had a huge row about how his stinking attitude was ruining my walk and how my constant badgering to cheer up was making him feel worse, but thankfully because we’ve been studying this stuff for many years, we both know that his emotions are his responsibility and my emotions are mine, and we don’t blame each other when we’re feeling grumpy.

It didn’t take long before Kev stopped flinging his metaphorical teddies around and was ready to talk about good stuff again - but he needed to go down in his pit before he was ready to come out again. 

Quite often, I talk to my clients about good self care and protecting their energy, and believe me I know how hard it can be to get into a good habit of doing this!

I am by no means perfect in this respect - if anyone tells you they are then they’re probably not being honest with themselves. 

I simply don’t know of any better way to deal with other people’s negativity than to offer help where you can, but don’t think it’s your responsibility to make everything OK for them.

If your help is rejected, then focus on keeping your own head in a good place so you can continue to be happy and strong in yourself. 

Unless I learn of a better way to do things, I’ll continue to use this method and encourage my clients to do the same. 

It’s often people with the highest levels of empathy who find it hard to recognise that other people’s emotions are not their responsibility, and feel very hurt when their attempts to cheer people up are rejected.

Self awareness is key in this. 

A great tool for self awareness around many factors including your capacity to deal with difficult people and situations is the assessment tool I use called The Judgement Index. 

I’ll be opening up four slots for Judgement Index consultations next month

Put “JI” in the comments and I’ll send you more details…

The author 

Vicki LaBouchardiere