My 7-year-old son had not one, but two knock-down, drag-out, tear-flinging, screaming, lying-on-the-floor, stubborn-as-a-mule hissy fits recently.
A child’s emotions are real and sometimes overwhelming for them. We have so many strong emotions as adults that can be difficult for us to manage. Kids don’t have the emotional maturity yet to handle these moments as well as we could.
We have the privilege of helping them navigate those tough emotional moments… if we can keep it together ourselves.
It had been a while since he lost it like this but I was able to remember a few tricks to help me out in a situation like this. The first is: don’t let it faze you. Show no fear. Don’t respond yet.
Getting down to their level and calmly making a gentle physical connection (a hand on their arm or rubbing their back) or speaking in soothing tones can sometimes put out the fire. Other times, like today, require a bit more finesse.
When your kid is in full-on meltdown, they can’t think clearly or logically. That part of their brain is no longer in control. Trying to reason with him while he is screaming and crying is of no use. He needs to know you are there.
He needs to know he is still loved.
Stay in it with them
Our kids need our attention and affirmation when they are feeling so out of control. It’s against our nature to stay present with them while they are screaming their heads off and throwing their stuffed animals around the room – they may also be embarrassing us in front of others or interrupting what we are doing.
If at all possible, make them your top priority for as long as it takes to help them through this. Turn off the stove, shut your laptop, hang up the phone – try to focus your attention on them. They are perceptive little ones and know when you are not fully engaging with them.
Help them calm down
When they are little, it’s much easier to pick them up and take them to their room, or out of the situation altogether, which can help them calm down. When they are bigger, however, it’s more challenging.
If being with them in an affirming silence isn’t doing the trick, lovingly encourage them to take a few deep breaths with you to calm down and talk about what is bothering them. This may take some time and a boatload of patience on your part.
Reaffirm your love for them and reflect back to them the emotions you see: “Sweetie, it seems like you are feeling really angry. Can you help me understand why?”
Hungry, Tired or Sick?
Although challenging, some meltdowns are exacerbated by hunger, tiredness or feeling under the weather. I figured hunger was a contributing factor for Meltdown #2 today since he had refused to eat his lunch.
If you can meet one or all of these needs, it could be the trick to avoiding a meltdown or help you both get through one.
Getting my son talking about what was bothering him, and offering him his favorite snack helped get him back on track to his usual happy self.
Our family lives in a cross-cultural situation. We travel often for work which can be physically tiring and emotionally draining. As great as my kids are at adjusting to new situations, I have to be aware of their emotional ability to cope. Seeing new people and places can be fun for a while, but for kids and parents alike, sometimes you’ve just had enough!
If your family is going through a period of relational stress or dealing with an illness, these factors can greatly decrease a child’s emotional tolerance.
Prayer in a hot emotional moment can give you the grace you need for your child. (And the sanity you need for yourself!)
Holy Spirit knows exactly what is going on in your sweet-kid-gone-mad. He loves to give insight into His precious little one to help us parent them well.
Throw up those quick prayers in the heat of the moment and expect answers. Pay attention to the thoughts that come into your mind as you ask God for help in dealing with your little one. Holy Spirit may point to an earache, a frustrating situation, something that happened at school, or an overwhelming emotion like sadness or grief.
When we receive heavenly wisdom, it’s the quickest way to help resolve an over-the-top moment without wounding our kids in the process. God cares about their little hearts and He made you their mom or dad for a reason.
You are the best person for the job.
Don’t give up
Temper tantrums are exhausting for everyone involved. Take deep breaths, remind yourself that your child needs you in these moments, and ask God for compassion.
There isn’t a solution that works perfectly for every situation. It’s helpful to have a mental arsenal of things to try when your child is melting down.
Remember your child adores you. You are their hero.
And it’s ok to reward yourself with chocolate when it’s over.