A couple of weeks ago, HB and I babysat Colby and Molly together. This is nearly always an easier task to do together, because both kids tend toward separation anxiety meltdowns, and if one starts crying there's a 90% chance it will set the other one off.
Colby is notoriously a bedtime fighter, and nearly always insists that he will stay awake to wait for his mother's return. As long as he's in bed with the overhead light off I don't care what he does for the three hours between official bedtime and babysitter departure.
That requirement was apparently completely unreasonable.
Colby screamed, cried, slammed the door, threw things, basically freaked the hell out for about half an hour (waking Molly, of course) while I calmly, patiently stood in the doorway and kept repeating myself in a soothing voice. Everything I tried was failing: resorting to firm preschool teacher language ("turning on the light is not a choice" -- "Yes it is a choice! It's my house, you don't live here!"), acknowledging his feelings ("I can tell you're upset") and reiterating reality ("I know you want your mom but she can't come home right now; she will be here in three hours"). Just about at my wit's end, I decided maybe I could try something new: getting to the root of his emotional outburst and enlisting his help in problem-solving.
When I asked him to name his feelings, he said, "sad and mad." I asked what was making him feel that way, and he said it was because I wasn't letting him have the overhead light on. I asked a few more questions and figured out he was scared of the dark. (Although when I asked what he was scared of specifically -- I do have some good monster repellent tips -- he said "I forget." So just general darkness heebie-jeebies.) Then I asked him if he could help me come up with a solution besides turning on the overhead light. He agreed that a flashlight would work if it was bright enough, but their house didn't have a working one.
So I offered him my bike headlight, which is extremely bright. Like, don't shine it in your eyes unless you want retina damage bright.
He agreed (cautiously) to try it, and he spent the next two hours shining it around on the ceiling and talking to himself. Every so often he'd yell, "Mom?" and HB and I would repeat, "She's not home yet, Colby. We will send her in to your room first thing." but he actually fell asleep, bike light in hand, before his parents got home. I felt like a champion.
It seemed that what he needed was feeling heard, understood, and respected, as well as feeling like he had a sense of agency over the situation. Which makes perfect sense. Isn't that what most of us want most of the time?