Meltdown Madness

Helping Kids Develop Coping Skills

I was asked by multiple friends last week about why I didn’t give Keener the princess cup if he was able to ask for it using appropriate language. Such a great question. During the meltdown, I was thinking about this as well and contemplated for a second rewarding him with the cup once he was able to stop crying and ask “Can I please have the princess cup?” However, I decided he wasn’t going to get the princess cup for camp that day no matter how calm he became or how many pleases he used. And upon reflection, I realized why I didn’t give in that day.

Monday through Wednesday last week was a struggle. It was meltdown central for Keener. I was getting to the point where I was really dreading playdates and didn’t want to go out in public. And there were times on Monday and Tuesday that I did give in when he asked calmly, because many times rewarding appropriate behavior is a perfectly appropriate decision. But by Wednesday, I realized that his behavior was not changing through that approach alone. So I needed to make a change. I had to figure out a new approach to try to limit his meltdowns.

While this will continue to be a work in progress, there are three things I decided to do last week:

  1. Find the confidence I needed. I was feeling lost as a parent and needed some direction. My favorite baby sleep book is Babywise and I have really enjoyed the other books in the “On Becoming” series by Gary Ezzo, M.A and Robert Bucknam, M.D. as well. I turned to Childwise which focuses on parenting the 3-7 year old age group. “Children need parents who are not afraid to be parents.” That was the confidence boost I needed.
  2. With this new found confidence, I decided that I was no longer going to be scared of Keener’s reaction and let his reaction dictate my decision making. I was not going to continue to let a 3 year old be in charge. One thing that prompted this particular change was thinking about Grace during these meltdowns. Right now, she is a curious bystander. In the not so distant future, she will be able to clearly communicate her wants. What was I going to do when they were in direct conflict with Keener’s? What would happen when they both ask to be the first out of the car or want to have raisins out of the same specific bowl? There was no way that I was going to be able to satisfy both of their requests of this nature.
  3. Lastly, I focused on teaching Keener coping skills.

What Is Helping Us

I plan to go into further detail about teaching coping skills in the coming weeks. For now, I will give a few language examples that really helped me this last week:

  • When your child is calm, have conversations about not getting what you want. Tell them about authentic times during the day when you didn’t get what you wanted and more importantly, what you did about it. Keener, mommy was running late to come and pick you up. Then I saw a “stop slow” sign and I had to stop when what I wanted was to keep driving. It made me feel really frustrated because I didn’t want to be late to pick you up at camp! I felt like screaming but instead I took a deep breath and told myself ‘it’s ok. They are just fixing the road, I will get to drive again in a minute.’ Mama didn’t get what she wanted right away. But I took some deep breaths and waited my turn. And then guess what? The sign turned to slow and I was able to drive!
  • Role play situations that you are struggling with during calm times. Driving in the car is one of my favorite times to have these conversations. Keener, I noticed the other morning you were really upset when you didn’t get the princess cup that you wanted. Sometimes you get what you want and sometimes you don’t. When you don’t, that feels frustrating doesn’t it? Let’s pretend that happened again. You want the princess cup and mama says no. You could say, ‘OK mama. Can I use it another time soon?” or you could say, ‘I really wanted it but mama says no. I’m flexible. The blue cup works for me!’ Which one of those would you want to try next time? (If you haven’t read my post about role playing, check it out for more ideas).
  • When your child is melting down, offer a hug. Given his yelling and angry outbursts, it didn’t initially occur to me to offer a hug during a meltdown. However, every time I have offered one, he has accepted it. It sounds like you are frustrated. Do you need a hug? Mama loves you and doesn’t want to see you upset. Even if you don’t want one right now, mama is always here for a hug if that sounds like something you might need now or in a few minutes.

Not getting what you want is hard for everyone, adults and children alike. I’ve started thinking about ways to help my kids (and myself) feel more equipped to deal with the disappointments that inevitably arise. Stay tuned for more ideas in the coming weeks.

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