What the Movie “Speed” Taught Me About Navigating Tough Moments
In the 1994 action movie Speed, Annie (played by Sandra Bullock) sits behind the wheel of a city bus in Los Angeles, desperately trying to keep its speed limit above 50 mph so the bomb placed on it by a madman (Dennis Hopper) doesn’t go off (#TotalHollywoodPlot). As she winds her way through the maze of Los Angeles freeways, there comes a moment where she has to make a critical decision . . . one that will determine the fate of all the passengers in her care.
That decision? Stay on or get off.
Those are the very words Annie frantically says to Jack (played by Keanu Reeves), the police officer who’s standing by her side, when facing gridlocked traffic and an exit ramp.
“Stay on or get off? STAY ON OR GET OFF?!”
At the last second, he shouts his reply. “OFF!”
In difficult parenting moments, I sometimes feel like Annie.
Because I know that at some point, I’ll invariably have to make a decision. Stay on the road I’m on, the one that is most definitely fueling the flames and/or keeping me locked in a power struggle with Asher (or myself), or get off, and consciously choose to stop contributing to what isn’t working in the situation.
Getting off is always the way to go.
Just last week, I had a chance to see the power of getting off the emotional freeway after Asher stormed to his room following a series of frustrations. The urge to stay on the road for me was strong. Part of me wanted to make sure Asher knew he had no right to be upset with me. Part of me wanted him to know I was right and he was wrong.
But though I was triggered, thankfully I was in enough control of myself to take some breaths and give Asher a few minutes before I went in to sort things out. Before I did, I made the conscious choice to get off and change course.
I walked into his room, where I found him lying face down on his top bunk stripped of sheets and pillows and comforter, and instantly apologized. Humbly. Authentically. Calmly. I knew that it was my last words to him that had resulted in his ultimate explosion, and so I took responsibility for them, telling him I hadn’t intended to upset him and apologizing for doing so.
He instantly looked up, explaining to me why my comment had sparked him. I listened. And when he was done, I told him that I got it. I apologized again, promising to be more aware of my words and watch my tendency to jump to conclusions. That’s when Asher apologized to me, acknowledging his contribution to what went wrong. And that was pretty much that. Nearly instant diffusion.
To be fair, it’s taken us a long while to get to this point where blow ups have the potential to be so readily resolved, and with a little emotional growth to boot. But regardless of a child’s age, “getting off” the emotional track and taking responsibility is always better than “staying on.”
As Dr. Dan Siegel writes in No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind:
“For a child or an adult, it’s extremely powerful to hear someone say, “I get you. I understand. I see why you feel this way.” This kind of empathy disarms us.”
When our child is having a difficult moment, we can literally disarm them with compassion. We can do that by coming to them with:
- Humility: We have to let go of our need to be right and approach our kids from a place of vulnerability
- Compassion: We have to empathize with their big feelings and help them feel loved no matter what
- Respect: We have to let our child know we see and appreciate their experience and, more importantly, who they are
- Regret: We have to be willing to apologize and take responsibility for our role in the situation
- Curiosity: We need to let go of our expectations for how things will be resolved, while still intending (and hoping) for the most positive outcome for everyone
- Authenticity: All those things above? We have to mean every single one