Tonight our oldest son had a meltdown. He went to bed a bit unhappy, but fine overall. 5 minutes later, he had worked himself up into an angry but controlled state. Knowing that he had himself under control, we gave him 3 options for how he could proceed. Unfortunately, he chose the option that ended with significant consequences.
Usually in these situations, consequences lead to full blown rage that goes on for quite a while. This time was different. Instead of reacting angrily, he reacted with deep sadness. As he cried and tried to get away from us, he kept saying, "I don't want to be your son anymore!"
As Peter assured him that the 2 of us love him very much and will always be his parents (whether he likes it or not), I realized that before bed I had talked with him about how our week would be very busy. I told him that we wouldn't have a lot of time to spend together, but then we would be going home and have plenty of time together next week. I suddenly wondered if that conversation had triggered his meltdown.
I told him that I wondered if his "big mad" (a phrase we picked up from our therapist) was really a "big sad." I wondered if maybe he was sad that we were so busy and if he really wanted us to spend some time with him. To my complete amazement, he calmed down and agreed that he was indeed sad. Then, with a little coaxing, he used words to tell us that he was sad and that he wanted us to spend some time with him this week.
Maybe this story seems insignificant to you, but I'm pretty certain that in 3 years we've never heard Joshua say he was sad except in therapy with help from the therapist. Not only did he let go of his "big mad" tonight, but he claimed to have feelings that he's never expressed before. On top of it, he wanted to be affectionate with both of us as soon as the conversation ended.
So tomorrow morning one or both of us will be up much earlier than we like to spend time with our little boy, but tonight we're celebrating a huge milestone while he sleeps. (If you can say that sitting here crying at the computer is a form of celebration.)