Handling A Meltdown
Simple Steps To Help You And Your Child Calm Down
By Caitlyn Valle, LMFT
If you’re a parent, at one point or another you’ve undoubtedly experienced what I’m talking about: a crying fit in the grocery store, a tantrum in the morning before school, the whiney/needy smaller child your big kid reverts to when exhausted or pulled away from something really fun. After the negotiating and the reminders, before you know it, you have a full-on meltdown on your hands. By this time, as a parent you have “defaults,” or ways you try to manage it, but you also know they’re not always successful. Try as we might, none of us are “perfect” parents in the eye of a storm.
There are a few simple go-to approaches for when your child is having a moment like this, or when you feel you’re about to lose it. Try one of these strategies next time you see a meltdown approaching.
1. Ask yourself…
Is my child tired, hungry or physically uncomfortable?
Have I been distracted, or have I given my child my full attention today?
Kneel down to be at your child’s eye level, ask for eye contact and wait until you see their eyes before continuing. Use a calm but confident voice tone.
Keep in mind that if your child is already upset, they will only be able to actually hear a very small fraction of what you’re saying, so use small words and be concise.
Try to focus on what your child might be feeling (i.e., “It looks like you’re feeling sad/disappointed/frustrated/hungry right now”) and ask if that’s accurate. Let them know that their feelings are always okay, but their actions might not be okay (i.e., “It’s okay to be mad but it’s not okay to hit mommy”).
—Replace “Calm down!” with one of these:
“I see that you’re upset, can I give you a hug?”
“Can you tell me why you’re upset?”
“Let’s take a deep breath together, everything is going to be okay.”
“What do you need to feel better right now?”
—Take your child for a walk or change the scenery. Or point out something else happening in the vicinity. Whatever will provide a momentary distraction that allows your child to catch a breath and focus elsewhere.
—Help your child practice counting to 10 or taking three deep breaths. The distraction provides a moment to reset and think before acting.
—Suggest your child practice tensing and releasing hands and feet a few times. This will help them to become aware of tensions they may be holding in their body and help their body to relax.
Keep in mind that a child having a meltdown is usually crying out to be seen, heard or valued. Every behavior has a need and it’s our job as caretakers to help children figure out what that need is and find a healthy/safe way to get the need met!
An upset child can make you feel upset, frightened and sometimes embarrassed, so take your own deep breaths and know you’re doing the best you can. Sometimes the most important thing is being there through the meltdown and letting your child know you love them no matter what—even if you don’t like the behavior.