The first thing to do when you sense a meltdown coming on…
Updated: Aug 2, 2020
Let’s talk about the*threenagers*, or well just toddlers, or just kids in general I guess. And let’s talk about the dreaded…* gasp* meltdownnnnn…
I’ve done a lot of reading over the past couple years, and attended courses about how to connect with a child in the more difficult moments. The resounding common theme is always to acknowledge feelings first (this is also a great tip for those difficult moments with adutls/friends/partners, too!). However, even though I KNOW this is what you are supposed to do, it can be hard to remember to do while in the heat of the moment and also- it takes some practice to get good at it. I mean what do you even say? How do you communicate that you are acknowledging a little person’s feelings? Does it mean that I am saying their behaviour is acceptable for pushing their sister because she “didn’t want her to touch her toys”, or that it’s fine to have a major meltdown and makes us late because they are doing up their zipper and they can “do it themselves!” by validating their feelings behind these actions? Nope. It just means that you are seeing them, that they feel heard, and that you are perhaps planting a seed that will help them be more regulated next time, think about their actions a bit more, and deepen the relationship and trust you have.
So, there was a great example of this for me this week. I am still always “practicing” and by no means perfect. Actually, I posted a quote by Brene Brown earlier this week in my stories that I think is perfect when it comes to these types of situations with your kids when you are just trying your best:“The real questions for parents should be: “Are you engaged? Are you paying attention?” If so, plan to make lots of mistakes and bad decisions. Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time. The mandate is not to be perfect and raise happy children. Perfection doesn’t exist, and I’ve found what makes children happy doesn’t always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.”
I love that, but anyways- back to my “a-ha” moment this week. Little Miss Threenager was avoiding getting ready for preschool. I was in my usual morning frenzy, feeding the twin babies and big kid, getting myself and threenager dressed, and trying to load up all three to get out the door for preschool drop off. Usually, Emma can get her coat and boots on while I buckle the babes in their bucket seats. On this particular morning, every time I shouted over the usual, “Okay, Emma time to get your coat on”- it was met with a big “NO, I don’t want to!” and even “I don’t like school!!” was thrown in here and there. This was unusual for her, she loves going to school. I didn’t know what was going on, but she seemed to have woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. It was time to go, I held her coat in my hand insisting she put it on. She resisted harder, “I DON’T WANT TO, I DON’T LIKE SCHOOL” and cue the tears….I was tired, I was flustered, and the words “but you do like school…” left my lips and brought back an even more fierce “NO I DON’T” and even more tears. Luckily, I had recently read “How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen” by Joanna Faber and Julie King (a MUST READ if you ask me) and had some tools in my tool belt for such an occasion and remembered how to acknowledge her feelings by just repeating back to her what she had been trying to tell me for about 20 minutes now. I even matched her exuberance behind the words with my own intonation and expression. “Oh goodness, you don’t want to go to school!! You don’t like school today! You liked it Monday, but today you do not like it!” … I was met with a “Yeah!” and then she collapsed into me still crying for a hug, but then let me slip on her coat and boots Out the door we went. She was heard. That was all she wanted. I could have likely avoided this struggle 20 minutes ago by just telling her what I was hearing.
Sometimes it’s magic, like this time, but sometimes it’s harder. I don’t want you to think it’ll work this easy every time. Tomorrow I’ll share about a time when I had to take back a promise of going to the park when we ran out of time on a walk, that one wasn’t fun. But the main thing I wanted to get to here was, you can never go wrong when you acknowledge their feelings, repeat back what they are telling you or sometimes just interpreting the feeling behind their action, i.e. “it is so frustrating when your little sister is trying to get the toy you are playing with” once they are heard- it is easier to then tack on the “but it is never okay to hit- what can we do next time?” once they have calmed down.
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