The Three Year Old, the TV and the Tantrum

Hispanic mother trying to feed crying baby boy

I had my friend over the other day, (for purposes of anonymity I will call him Elliot). Elliot came over to hangout while I was on daddy duty. He was having a hard time after recently getting dumped by his girlfriend. He was distraught to say the least. I was telling him he just needed to change his perspective. I am a firm believer that if you change your perspective, you will change your life. I tried to assure him that it was not that bad and even shared some stories of my past heartbreaks I experienced and how good things worked out for me. Nothing worked. He was determined to have his pity party on my sofa. The nerve of some people! It would take my three year old to get through to him.

As the afternoon progressed I went to the kitchen to prepare lunch while Elliot and the boys played and watched TV. Usually the TV is off when we eat but because we had a guest I decided to leave it on. Chase, my oldest, was not in the least bit interested in his lunch and instead of eating, he would turn around and watch TV. After a few times of asking nicely, for him to turn around and eat, I finally turned the TV off and told Chase I wouldn’t turn the TV on until he ate his lunch. Now any parents reading this can probably guess what followed. Chase had an Oscar worthy tantrum; crying hysterically, screaming, throwing himself on the floor, the works! Now being used to a three year olds meltdown, I took it in stride. Elliot, who does not have kids, was in complete shock.

After Chase calmed down, I used the opportunity to make a point to Elliot. I said to him “do you see what just happened”. Elliot, still wearing his deer in the headlights expression, shook his head yes. Elliot witnessed what happened but did not fully grasp it.

Chase couldn’t watch TV and in his mind his world was coming to an end. If he did not want to eat that was fine, he just could not watch TV. I never said he was on time out nor did I say he could not play with his toys. He simply could not watch TV and that was enough to ruin his life at that moment.

It is not Chase’s fault. He is after all three years old. His awareness at this point of his life, of the TV being turned off, is equivalent to the shattering of his existence. The tantrum is genuine, his response is warranted, but Chase lacks perspective. I explained to Elliot, how something as small as a TV being turned off could ruin Chase’s day, the same way Elliot’s ex-girlfriend ruined his day by dumping him.

I tell you this story because I find that we often look at life through the eyes of a three year old. If we get dumped, or we don’t get that promotion, or our start-up fails, or we do not lose enough weight, we have a tantrum. It may not be Oscar worthy, like Chase’s was, but it is still a tantrum. If things do not go our way we get depressed, our world comes crashing down. How we see things, how we perceive them, will affect how we handle things.

The awesome part is, we are not three years old. We know, or at least should know, that whatever the setback happens to be is not the end of our world. Once Elliot understood this, he immediately started to feel better about himself. He internalized the point that life goes on. It comes down to perspective.

Whenever I feel like Chase or Elliot felt that afternoon I have a little trick to help me get me back on track. It is really hokey but it works in most situations. I touch my hand to my heart and take some deep breaths. Say what now? Yes, I literally take my hand and put it over my heart. I do this to check for a heartbeat. Reason being is that it shows I am still alive! Then I take some deep breaths. On a practical sense things can’t be that bad if I am still alive, right?! For me, this is a conscious reminder to myself that things are not that bad. Like I said it is hokey, but it is scientifically proven that a physical change causes a mental change. If we physically change our state it helps change our mind. The hand to my heart is a physical change. The deep breaths help me to focus on something other than the thing that is causing me grief, and in this case it is something as simple as my breathing.

My method may not work for you. Perhaps for you it will be going for a run, or cleaning the house or dancing. Find what works for you. Start by acknowledging the setback is just that, a setback. Life goes on!

If you change your perspective, you change your life.

Jay Will

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