“NOOOOO!!!!” The happy hum of preschoolers enjoying their snacks is instantly shattered by three-year-old Thomas’ screams of rage.
“I don’t WANT you to put the straw in my juice! I can do it MYSELF!!!” Crossing his arms, Thomas glares at me. “I’m MAD at you!”
It’s going to be a long day. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. This is more than I bargained for when I agreed to sub for the three-year-old preschool class today.
All day long, Thomas throws screaming fits when something is not exactly to his liking. “But I don’t WANT to color the T!” “I don’t WANT to sit next to Samuel!” “He’s touching MY crayon!” “NOOOOOO!!!!!” I’ve never seen a preschooler put in time out or sent to the principal’s office so many times in one day.
Mad at the World, Lashing out in pain
“Thomas’ family just moved to the area,” the other preschool teacher explains to me in a whisper. “His dad’s in the military and gone a lot. Plus his mom just had a new baby. He’s mad at the world right now.”
My heart goes out to this angry little boy, but I don’t know how to handle his fits of rage. So I start to ignore Thomas. When Allison needs help with her letter T worksheet, I gladly show her what to do. When Gregory wants me to read to him, I pull him onto my lap and cheerfully start “Curious George at the Dentist.” But I avoid even looking at Thomas, afraid that the smallest thing might set him off.
Almost done, I sigh with relief at the end of the day. We are letting the kids run off some energy in the gym before their parents pick them up. Like clockwork, after a few minutes Thomas plops down in the middle of the gym and screams, for no apparent reason. None of the other kids seem concerned.
Tender, Loving Care
This little boy needs a lot of love, I realize with a pang. He needs consequences too, but if I only give him attention when he does something wrong, isn’t that just reinforcing his bad behavior?
I don’t really want to do it. But I know I need to. I walk over to him and force myself to smile.
“Thomas, would you like me to swing you around?” He looks up, surprised, and agrees hesitantly. I pick him up, and he quickly wraps his legs around my waist and holds tightly to my neck.
“Ready?” I ask. He nods. As I start spinning around, I’m surprised by a sound I haven’t heard all day. I stop and look at Thomas. He’s actually giggling!
“Want to do it again?” He grins. Once more I spin around, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until we’re both dizzy and laughing. Amazing. Thomas isn’t throwing fits. And I’m actually enjoying myself!
The Root Cause of Lashing Out in Pain
As the preschoolers gather their coats and backpacks for the carpool line, I think of another friend in my life who sometimes acts like Thomas. Deeply wounded by life’s hurts and disappointments, she reacts in anger, verbally attacking anyone who comes near. Recently I’ve started to avoid contact with her completely. To keep from being hurt, I’ve been withdrawing from the relationship.
But aren’t there times when I, too, react out of pain and anger, hurting those around me? Yet the Heavenly Father always takes an interest in me. Not because I’m always acting lovable. But because He loves me unconditionally. Right then I decide to make an effort to reach out to my friend. Because I’ve been forgiven, I can forgive. Because I’ve been given grace, I can extend grace. Because I am loved, I can love.
Do you know someone who is throwing a tantrum at life’s injustice? Do you have a friend who’s been hurt deeply and is lashing out in pain? Though the temptation is to back away from someone like that, consider how you can reach out to that person this week. Even a screaming fit of rage is no match for forgiving, grace-filled, unconditional love.
“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
Psalm 86:15 (NIV)