managing meltdowns

This summer was rough on my kids.  For nearly nine weeks, we had an ever-changing stream of relatives bunking at Grandma’s house—on our turf.  As many of us would do, my kids have reacted to the out-of-control constant change in their environment by trying to exercise control wherever they can.

If told he can’t go to Grandma’s house today but he can go tomorrow, Peatie declares, “I can’t go tomorrow.  I’m busy all day fixing my computer.  Maybe I can go the next day.”  Goober throws a fit about going potty, despite having been well-trained for six months now.  Both kids are difficult at mealtimes, refusing to eat or engaging in activities they know to be disallowed (blowing bubbles in their cups and spraying milk all over, for example).  I lamented that I never know how they’ll behave when I take them to a store or playdate now, whereas I used to be very confident in their good behavior.

I’m hoping that time will help them revert to their better selves.  I’m telling myself that they can’t keep up this level of misbehavior for long.  I’m praying that I’m right.  In the mean time, I’ve discovered a couple of ways to ease some of the conflict—perhaps they will help you.

Girl screaming

Someone else’s kid having a tantrum, posted on Flickr by LuluP–because, of course, my kids never have tantrums for me to photograph.

If you sense a fight coming on, find a way to make your child feel empowered. 

I’ve been way behind on laundry lately, so the other day I had to rummage through the dryer for an outfit for Peatie.  I found one of his favorite shirts and grabbed a pair of shorts to go with it.  “Here, Peatie, I’ve got something for you to wear,” I said, holding out the clothes.  Noticing shades of mutiny on his face, I hastily added, “I think you like this shirt.  Do you think it looks like a good one to wear today?”  Suddenly, the ball was in his court.  He hesitated briefly before agreeing that he would like to wear it.

When your child is beyond reason, work the distraction angle.

Sometimes you can explain yourself to a child and have them understand and move on.  When your child is overtired or is engaged in a power struggle, no amount of calm reasoning or irrational yelling is likely to get through.  Those are the times that I’ve found it best to calmly explain myself once before engaging in Operation Distraction.

Goober never wants to use the potty at bedtime lately.  I can’t force her to go, but I calmly inform her that we need to try to go potty before we go to sleep, otherwise our bodies can’t relax and get the rest we need.  I help her climb on the throne as she wails, and then I ask her about something we’re going to do the following day or launch into a silly song.  Inevitably, she begrudgingly relaxes.

My top distraction tactics, depending on the child and the situation, are bursting into song, asking the child about something I know they enjoy considering and discussing, or pulling out a favorite book to read while snuggled together on the couch.  Physical contact seems to be helpful, so I often pick up my distraught children.

In the end, know your child.

Sometimes you skate right on past providing options and utilizing distraction, and your kid heads straight for a meltdown.

When Peatie is in full meltdown and none of my comfort techniques are having any effect, I send him to snuggle his buddy Teddy on his bed.  Because I know that somehow being up in his space and snuggling his Teddy works as a reset for him, I require him to do this when he is too overwrought.  Within two minutes, he’ll be back downstairs with Teddy tucked under one arm while he wipes tears from his newly-calm face.  This tactic doesn’t work for Goobie—I’ve tried, and she just sits on her bed and howls all the harder.  For her, sitting and reading is like a magic charm, providing her the comfort and distraction she needs to calm down.  Each little personality has different needs, and your delightful job is to figure out what those are.

What are your go-to techniques for meltdown management?


2 thoughts on “managing meltdowns

  1. My oldest still struggles with meltdowns. I find the best way to prevent a meltdown is to make the transitions slow, with warning, and predictable. Whenever the day gets hectic and the schedule is all out of wack, he can’t adjust well.
    Once meltdown has started my keeping calm is the best way to calm him. I speak softly and sometimes that will work. If not I have to put him in his room so he stops engaging everyone and will calm down by himself.

    • Interesting to see that the same sort of techniques might stand me in good stead for many years in the future. I guess part of the meltdown-factor is just personality. My kids do pretty well unless they’re overtired or feeling stressed from things being too different in their lives. I wonder what school and social lives would do for them…

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