Helping my Son’s Friend “Unroll” his Feelings

My 3-year old son and his slightly younger friend had a play date at our house. There was a bowl with a snack roll in it made of grains and fruit. Frank picked a muesli roll, as he was hungry. My son wanted to follow his lead and picked what happened to be the last oat roll.

At that moment, Frank decided that he wanted to have that oat roll and tried to grab it out of my son’s hand. My son escaped to the opposite side of the table. Frank got very upset and started a tantrum. I came to the table not knowing what had happened. I just observed that Frank was trying to get out of his mom’s lap in order to get across the table to secure the roll that was in my son’s hand. I asked, “Did he take your roll?” Frank continued to rage.  His mother said that that was actually not the case.

I decided to listen. Luckily, my son did not start eating his roll. We listened. Frank continued to rage. His mom and I reassured Frank that we were hearing what he wanted and that we would find a solution to the problem. Frank was so loudly expressing his emotions that we just got a reassuring sentence in about every 3 minutes or so. We mainly demonstrated our confidence with our facial expressions and with eye contact.

After about 10 minutes, Frank dragged his mom to my son and me on the other side of the table. My son was still holding his roll. His mom loosely bear-hugged Frank so that he could not grab the roll out of my son’s hand. She also did a wonderful job gently keeping him from touching her breasts, which Frank tends to do to distract himself from his emotions.

My son asked if he could eat the roll and I responded, “Please wait until Frank is finished and then we can discuss the best solution.” Frank was getting more and more into his rage. He sweated a lot, and was fighting with his entire body. His mom also started to cry and I put my hand on her back to express my support. I said to Frank, “It’s good that you want it,” and at some later point, “You might get it.” At some point my son offered Frank a bite of his roll. This made Frank even more upset. We kept listening. I again asked my son to please wait with eating the roll until Frank was done and we could all discuss the situation.

After about what seemed like almost half an hour, Frank slowed down and said that he wanted to talk about it. I asked him if he had a solution. He replied, “Yes, I want the roll.” I asked my son if that was okay with him, and he responded that it was not.  When I asked my son for his solution, he replied that he wanted to eat his roll by himself. I asked if I could make a suggestion, and Frank said no, but that his mom could. His mom suggested that they each could have a half a roll, but Frank did not want that.

Then I suggested that I could check in the kitchen if there were any additional oat rolls. Frank was okay with that idea. I went into the kitchen and came back with a few more muesli rolls but no more oat rolls. Frank said that he would pick one of the other muesli rolls. I double-checked with him if that meant that Luca could eat the oat roll, and Frank confirmed that that worked for him.

Frank and my son spent about 2 more hours after that incident together and had the best time playing together, resolving any upcoming conflicts between themselves without needing our assistance.  It was wonderful to observe.

-A Hand in Hand mother in California

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