The 'Snap Back' | Understanding emotional regulation

Blog Image for article The 'Snap Back' | Understanding emotional regulation

My son can be pretty argumentative. He’s six though, so let me rephrase that; it’s not that he’s argumentative as such, it’s that he’s incredibly inquisitive and curious about the world around him and I can be a bit of an asshole. 

Of course, I don’t challenge him on everything and I don’t correct him when he says things like, “The moon is 100 years old” or “dogs could drive if we taught them.” I just mean that sometimes, if I’m not completely switched on and dialled into the diatribe, I may say something that doesn’t align with his views at the time. 

Like when he confidently told me that when he was a tiny baby, he used to walk to school by himself, but now that he’s older he likes to let me drive him so we can talk about things. 


“I couldn’t talk when I was a baby so I went by myself,” he told me. And I should have done what I usually do and told him how interesting and exciting that must have been for him, adventuring to school all on his own. Instead, half asleep, I said, “I’ve always driven you to school, you have never gone anywhere by yourself.”

You’d swear I told him he was adopted. He was outraged. How dare I suggest he was incapable of independent travel before he could even walk. What kind of monster was I?

The remedy here is to not engage in an argument, continuing to fight someone who can barely reason at all but to apologise and perhaps admit that I hadn’t quite understood what he meant. Or at least that’s my remedy. 

“Strap in kid, we’re doing this.” 

But there is the odd occasion where I’m not thinking. Or am I? I’d like to think it’s some momentary lack of consideration on my part and I’d never purposely upset him over something so trivial, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a teeny tiny part of me that sometimes thinks, “Strap in kid, we’re doing this.” 

Maybe for entertainment value? Maybe because I think he should sometimes be challenged on the silly things so he doesn’t go through life thinking the sea is salty because sharks sometimes cry when they can’t find food. I try to pick my battles carefully but I do have my slip-ups. 

The ‘Snap Back’ regret

Then there are actual arguments. Meltdowns. We’ve all seen them, we’ve all snapped back too, and felt like crap afterward. I remember a while back my son got unreasonably upset, seemingly unreasonably at least, over something. I cannot recall what it was but as he yelled at me, I yelled back.

And I instantly regretted it. 

He was maybe five at the time. I, a 40-year-old man, was arguing with a five-year-old. Not just arguing but I was in a shouting match with someone who still has to carry a cup with two hands. Whatever it was over, I was in the wrong. And I think that’s the important thing I learned. 

Shouting at your kid is inevitable, we’re only human and we all have our limits. Whether it’s from exhaustion or a pile-on of stress, the snap-back will happen at some stage. 

The quiet cheerleader

The real lesson I learned that day is that this small child, who was probably mad at me because the cat looked at him funny or his banana was too long, this little boy of mine is forgiving. I told him I was sorry. I think he was still shouting. But I told him I was sorry for being angry and he immediately came down from this elevated anger and apologised too. 

It may sound like I’m a pushover, I don’t know. And you may disagree with the tactic but I employ it still, whenever he gets mad over something that isn’t really a thing, I just let him be mad. It’s usually a lack of sleep or frustration over something else entirely, plus the changing hormones. It’s a lot to deal with without me adding to it. He regulates his emotion and resolves it pretty quickly by himself now, and I just quietly cheer him on from the side-line and wait for the dust to settle.

I don’t want to spend my time arguing with a child, that helps nobody.

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