It can be really hard to stay calm when your child is in the midst of meltdown. Children are high emotion and their fits of frustration and anger can be really strong at times. Just when you think you are doing well, rocking it as a parent, one happens and it can really deplete you.
Like everything else in parenting and life, our greatest challenges create our greatest opportunities for growth.
Calvin had a meltdown recently when we were out at a new indoor playplace. At the age of four, he can communicate with me, so his fits are much less frequent than my two-year-old Lucy, who has them daily as she is finding her words still and gets frustrated more easily. But Lucy’s are usually much easier to resolve than Calvin’s.
This particular day at the playplace, they were playing so well so we stayed longer than I had planned. He started to have a change in behavior and I knew it was time to go. I gave him the warning that we would be leaving and he immediately protested. As I gathered the girls, I saw his behavior become even worse and it grew to full crying, arms wailing no-fun-for-anyone meltdown as we tried to leave.
We eventually got through the meltdown and finally left but I couldn’t let it go.
Whenever I have an experience like this, I find myself replaying the experience in my head. I usually find that there are things I could have done differently leading up that may have prevented it. Or there are things in the moment that I could have done to help calm sooner. I usually find I wasn’t fully present.
It is hard to be present and loving when your child is at their worst—but that is when they need us the most.
Here are a five practices that help me get through these challenging moments:
- Don’t take children’s mistakes personally. It’s helpful to separate ourselves from our children’s behavior. When my child is acting up and I start thinking about myself—why is he spoiling this outing, why am I failing as a parent, how are others judging me—I can’t be present for my child. Children aren’t thinking about us when they are acting out, only of themselves so I shouldn’t take it personally.
- I can only discipline in the present moment. When we are out in public or social setting, I may let an inapropriate behavior slide that I wouldn’t allow in our house. This inconsistency doesn’t serve me or my children and can lead to greater problems like a meltdown. Children need consistency. I have to address behavior right as its happening if I want stop it or make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.
- Stay engaged with my children, especially in social or new situations. Sometimes we feel our children can get by with minimal engagement but children don’t always know how to behave. Of course they know how to play and I do let them do that but there are times when they need to be redirected, given some one-on-one attention, or shown how to interact with others. I find when they are left on their own for too long, that is when they start to act out.
- Our children are inherently well-meaning and want to do the right thing. Though its hard to see the goodness in your child during a meltdown—we need to remember this so we can be there for them. They are learning and exploring and sometimes they make mistakes and lose control of their emotions. It is in these tough moments that they most need our love or a hug.
- Accept whatever is happening and move on. After a tough experience with my children, I sometimes hold on to feelings of anger or regret or shame and this doesn’t serve anyone. Once I accept what happened as the best I could do then I can move on. When we are caught up in the past, there isn’t space to see the goodness in front of us.
It’s tough when children behave in manners beyond our expectations, but it brings out the parts in our own selves that still need to evolve.
Challenging experiences are inevitable as a parent. Following these practices may help you get through them with more calm and even see the good in them—as an opportunity to evolve and grow. Once I accept what happened and then move on, I can grow from the tough experience. The sooner I can move on then I make space for all the beauty and joy in front of me.
Parenting is about evolving together and if we see it like that it makes it all more beautiful, perfect even.