This morning, while driving to a meeting at church, I received an unexpected call from a friend whose six-year-old daughter was having a temper tantrum in the parking lot of our church.
“She’s still in her pajamas and refuses to get out of the car because she doesn’t want to go to preschool,” the mom said as her daughter screamed in the background.
“I’m almost to the church and will pull up next to you,” I replied.
Feeling like a fireman without a ladder, I had no idea how I was going to talk this little girl off the ledge of her own hysteria. I never claimed to have all the answers when my daughters were her age and, after writing on numerous occasions about my own incompetencies as a parent, felt highly unqualified to help. When I arrived, the little girl was hysterically throwing things as her mom jumped out of the front seat to avoid the blows. After watching several CDs and other loose objects spew from the belly of the vehicle, I said a quick prayer for guidance and walked around to the passenger side to assess the situation. My first instinct was to gently, but firmly grasp the girl’s arms to keep her from picking up anything else.
“I’ll let go when you calm down and promise to stop throwing things,” I said as she screamed louder and fought to free herself from my grip. When it seemed like she would never stop writhing in anger, I remembered something that Mayor Rudi Giuliani said after the terrorist attacks on 9/11: “My father, when I was very young, used to say to me, ‘If you are ever in an emergency, if you are ever in a fire and everybody gets very excited, very emotional, then you become the calmest person in the room'”(1)
My friend’s daughter was definitely on fire as I looked into her determined eyes and quietly repeated that I was not letting her go until she let up on the screaming. I could tell that I was making progress, but it wasn’t enough. Something was missing. Something that kept her guard up and her mind closed to the possibility of letting go of the rage. That something was an emotion, and as soon as I showed empathy, the anger melted away.
“You must be exhausted,” I said quietly.
The little girl nodded.
“I am too. Would it be okay if we put this behind us and went inside?”
I don’t know who was more surprised when the girl quietly exited the vehicle, her mother or myself.
“Great job at calming down,” I said. “Give me five!”
After slapping my hand, she gave me a big smile and headed toward the church. As her mom and I followed, I thought about what had just happened and realized: If I’d waited until I knew what to do to help my friend’s daughter, I never would have tried. I had to take the first step before God would lead me to the next one. Knowing that I could find myself in similar situations in the future, I reflected on what worked in the hope of duplicating the outcome and came up with the following three ‘E’s of Crisis Management. Each one is followed by a quote from the consummate of calm: Rudolph Giuliani.(2)
1. Engage: “During a crisis, leaders must be out front rather than running or hiding from the ordeal. They must go to the scene of disaster and stand front and center – to accurately assess the situation as well as show their concern, while also demonstrating confidence that the group will persevere.”
2. Empathize: “You must speak up and take charge of what people are thinking and feeling at the time. You must reassure them and give them a simple yet specific plan that will get people through the crisis. Outline important action steps that they can take immediately to help themselves and the team.”
3. Encourage: “As difficult as the crisis can seem, remind people that there is hope.”
These steps, together with prayer and personal reflection, have the power to help even the most perplexed parent set a Godly example that all of God’s children can follow.