Tantrums and emotional meltdowns are as difficult on parents as they are on the child experiencing them. A public outburst, a crying fit that won’t stop, screaming and howling or how about that time you told them they can’t have Oreos for breakfast? True story. Emotional meltdowns are draining on parents. Definitely not the easiest part of parenting but we didn’t sign up just for the rosy bits, did we?
As much as we don’t want to believe it, it’s true, temper tantrums are a part of typical child development. I once read somewhere it should be more worrying if tantrums weren’t a part of your child’s life. Well, I don’t know about that.
To manage a tantrum or an emotional meltdown, we first need to understand them. Once we see it from our child’s perspective, it becomes that much easier to respond rather than react to it. In the famous parenting book “Between Parent And Child” by Dr Haim Ginott, he says “When children feel understood, their loneliness and hurt diminish and they gather the strength to face reality”. When you look at it like that, it does make you want to be there for your child when they are having a hard time.
A child having a meltdown is simply a child who is experiencing big feelings that they don’t have the ability to handle on their own. Young brains take time to develop the right means to express what they are feeling or put into words what they are experiencing. If their little brains had developed enough to say “ Mama, I’m tired and cranky and I feel really mad that you stopped my playtime when all I want to do is play some more with you” instead of falling on the floor and crying those big tears, they really would. But they are too young for that now and it is our job as parents to help them handle those big feelings that seem to be overwhelming to them.
Here are some tried and tested ways to manage an emotional meltdown:
Before: As parents, you would have noticed some patterns in your kid. Not exactly the calm before the storm, but you can recognise some of the signs that let you know a meltdown is on its way. It could be the situation “ another child just grabbed his favourite toy” it could be the time of the day “ it’s late and dinner time, she’s hungry and not in the mood to wait her turn” it could be the irritation that’s glooming over his face. Read the signs and respond. If you can tell your child is headed towards a meltdown, take them away from the situation that is stressing them out. Distracting them with a conversation or topic might also help. Being proactive can be really helpful in not letting their emotions escalate.
During: Ok, so you didn’t see the signs, it’s all happened so quick, what do you do now?
Stay Calm: This is probably the hardest thing to do but so important and helpful Stay calm. Your child has just hit their younger sibling maybe or thrown an object across the room in a fit and it just sends you into a tizzy. Stay calm. Remind yourself “this is not an emergency, this is my child who needs help with their big feelings”. Once you have regulated your own feelings you will find it easier to respond rather than react to the situation. Like they say in case of an emergency on a flight “ make sure to wear your own oxygen mask first before helping your children”. We first need to regulate our own feelings before we think of dealing with that of our child. Not only will we handle our and their emotions better, but our child will also learn how to handle situations calmly from watching us.
Very often, we associate being calm with being lenient but that’s far from the truth. Being calm helps us see the situation without getting emotionally carried away. Our children too will value our words more when we react calmly to their situations. Empathize & Accept: Don’t dismiss your child’s feelings, instead meet them there. “I see you’re finding it hard to share your toy, you wish you didn’t have to”. “You really wanted me to play with you and were upset I was busy on the phone” Just acknowledging your child’s feelings can help them manage their emotions better. When your child feels understood they are more likely to come to you for help than shut themselves out. Empathy truly is the biggest parenting skill we need to master and the one that will see us through the difficult bits.
Support: While it can seem hard to stick around, it is important we don’t isolate our child when they are having a meltdown. I know this is easier said than done. I often want to take off on a one-way ticket, when my kids are in the midst of a meltdown. Offer support instead. Say “ I’m right here” or a little rub on their back or if they seem okay with it, give them a hug. Let them understand that you still want them around even when they aren’t at their best. And no, you are not spoiling your child by offering them love and support, you are letting them know you are there for them always. We want our children to know that we love them and are there for them when they are in the midst of a crisis. Go by the thought “ Children need our love when it seems like they deserve it the least”. Stick around when their emotions have got the better of them. And for those times, you haven’t, don’t be hard on yourself. You are human, you are learning, you are a good mom. After: If you empathize and stay calm, you can help your child through their outbursts and they are most likely to calm down in a bit and gather themselves. That is when you :
Talk it Through & Explore Solutions: This is a much better time to talk to your child about what happened than offering lengthy explanations when they are having a meltdown and have completely shut down. Once they have calmed down, you can run through the situation and brainstorm solutions about what they could have done. This gives them an opportunity to think of options they might use in a similar situation that might occur in the future.
Engage them in exploring solutions. “ I see there is only one fire engine truck but two children who want to play with it. Hmm, what are we going to do?.” “You want to watch more TV and it’s time for dinner, how can we sort this out?” Give it a try, you will be amazed at what responses your child will come up with. And no, not always will their solutions seem sensible, but the point is you make them feel capable of handling their problems.
As parents, it can be hard to stay patient and calm always especially when you have so much going on. Don’t beat yourself up over times you may have reacted instead of responding. I’ve been there, done that. We all have. Parenting is a journey of learning and growing. Changing our response to our children’s behaviour takes practice and time and making the effort to do just that matters the most. And remember, as children grow older they will develop better self-control and will experience fewer meltdowns. So just hang in there until the storm passes, even when it seems to linger on.