As a mental health therapist that has worked with elementary-aged kids for the past 10 years and a mother of three children with very different temperaments, I have faced my share of meltdowns. I’ve seen it all- from screaming and stomping to throwing things. I’ve seen meltdowns from a result of being overtired, too hungry, or genuinely sad about something. As parents, we hate to see our children upset. Sometimes, in our effort to help them feel better, we may end up making the meltdown worse. Here are three common mistakes that parents make during their child’s meltdowns.
Tell your child “use your words”
Parents probably feel they are being super helpful and providing a great solution to help their child by asking them to use their words instead of using that high pitch scream that makes even your pets want to run for cover. However, once your child is in the meltdown phase, they are so overcome by emotions, that they are not going to be able to come up with words. You will probably have the same results if you were to say “stop being so emotional and act rational.”
INSTEAD, be patient and acknowledge your kid’s feelings. Soon, you’ll both be able to calm down and use your words. Give your child space and time to express their feelings without putting words, thoughts, and reasoning to them. Think of yourself, you don’t like to have to justify or explain all of your feelings, and you may not even know exactly what, or why, you are feeling a certain way at the moment. You also don’t want to teach them to shut down and never learn to express their feelings.
Tell them to stop it, or else!
A lot of parents feel like if they offer a severe enough consequence it will snap their child out of the meltdown. The moment your little one feels you are trying to control their behavior with threats, his meltdown will likely get bigger and louder. Plus, you have to uphold your end of the deal and make sure you follow through with the consequence you handed out while your emotions were sky high.
INSTEAD, validate your child’s feelings. “I can see your mad that I won’t let you have another cookie.” Validating feelings is not the same as validating behavior. Feelings aren’t the problem, but it’s what your child does with his feelings that be can problematic. A great time to teach them ways to manage their strong feelings, is when they are calm and feel safe.
Get mad and lose control of your own feelings
This one sounds like an obvious one, but we have all done it. If you are upset or anxious, your child will more likely be anxious or upset. If you are calm and steady, your child will probably be able to pull herself together more quickly. Don’t act shocked by your child’s behavior and certainly don’t let their emotions control yours.
INSTEAD, take a few deep breaths, and remind yourself that if you lose it too, it will only make the situation worse. Try talking in a soothing voice that shows your child that you’re not letting their fit get to you. If your child will let you, give them a hug, stroke their hair, or rub their back. Let them feel safe and loved. If your child has a specific behavior that sets your anger off, think of a way beforehand that will help you maintain control. If it’s his screaming, try putting in ear plugs to help decrease the noise. You’ll still be able to hear him and can remove them when your child is calm.
Parenting can be very difficult and learning to manage meltdowns is just a part of it. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, insomnia, life transitions, or alcohol or drugs it’s even more difficult to manage your child’s behavior in a manner you feel proud about. If you feel that you or your child would benefit from learning more about changing behaviors and regulating emotions, please visit Abby Simpson, LPC, today at www.legacycounselingservice.com to learn how I can help you respond to your child in a way that you can feel proud about. Or, if you think counseling for yourself first would help you solve the problem, then you can meet all of our mental health providers at www.legacycounselingservice.com. We provide counseling for children, teens, couples, families, and adults across the lifespan at our Broken Arrow office.