We all have those moments where our kids come unglued. I don’t know about you but it would sometimes unglue me. Anxiety is often the reason for the meltdowns. Anxiety meltdowns are often a result of panic attacks, social and separation anxiety, and frankly, most kinds of anxiety. Here are some ideas that might help you avoid any regretful parenting moments and reduce future episodes.
1. Stay calm.
All us parents know that a meltdown gets on our last nerve (as we say here in the Southern United States). We are upset, anxious and incredibly frustrated because we cannot get control of our child. Depending on where it happens, it might be terribly embarrassing as well. Your natural response is to try to end the meltdown by solving your child’s problem, meeting some need, comforting, appeasing, avoiding, escaping or punishing if all else fails. It is important in this moment to plan to do the opposite. I don’t mean in all the rest of your parenting life, just in the moment of the meltdown. I’ll explain further what I mean.
2. Make sure everyone is safe.
First things first. Kids might throw their bodies down, run, throw things, etc. I know one kid who panicked at the door of school and ran across several lanes of traffic and scared everyone half to death. Rather than focusing on stopping the meltdown, focus on making sure everyone is safe. Once that is secured then prepare to let the meltdown run its course. That is pretty opposite, right?
3. Talk less.
When my kids were having meltdowns I tended to start talking. I was trying to say something that might get through to them or start to calm them down. Because this works sometimes in other situations, we all go for it. However, when your child is at this level of distress they are not going to respond well. You are not going to get your child to stop crying and go, “Wow, good point, thanks, I am feeling better now.” Instead, they will argue more, tell you all the ways you are wrong or it won’t help and your irritation grows as anything you say is bouncing off of them.
4. Disengage until your child calms down.
Emotionally step away from your child. Say something like, “We will talk about it when you calm down.” Modulate your voice. Lower the volume and pitch. Slow down. Slow the pace. Go about your tasks. Your child is safe. Don’t fix it at this point. Plan to intervene after things calm down.
5. Be patient.
In your mind the movie you have of this tantrum is that maybe it will last 10 or 15 minutes. Nope. Not for a big chunky five-star meltdown. If someone jumps from behind a door and scares you it takes 15 minutes to get back to a baseline. Let the meltdown take as long as it takes. It might last an hour or more.
6. Stay in the present.
Don’t make a future movie of your child failing at life because they are having a meltdown (or maybe a lot of them). Watch your own internal thinking and try to stay in the present. No future catastrophes. Don’t let it get personal. You are not a bad parent because your child is having a meltdown.
7. Talk about it afterward.
Maybe you are like me and don’t really relish confrontation. You might be a harmony person, right? Well, you need to talk about this once your child calms down. How you talk about it is important. You need to have calmed down as well. Be matter of fact and don’t shame your child. Talk about whatever triggered the episode and also about how your child responded. Work on some alternative responses for when these triggers happen again.
8. Give consequences for behavior not feelings.
As we all know, we have to teach our kids responsibility and he or she may need to make amends. They need to repair any hurt relationships as well as anything that might be broken or damaged. If consequences for behavior are fitting then those are given. However, it is important that consequences are not given for feelings or being upset, rather how your child chose to handle those feelings.
**Some of these remarks were based on a lecture by Aureen Wagner, PhD. She has written a number of terrific books and resources for child anxiety. Click this link to be taken to her website.
Difficult Behaviors and Anxiety: Tantrums and Meltdowns
Very Helpful, thank you.