I need to stop joining my children’s meltdowns

A day in the life: toddler meltdowns

“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to to share our calm, not join their chaos.” – L. R. Knost

The other day, I had Keener’s Back To School zoom call. It was at 4:30 and I put Keener and Grace on the iPad while I was on the call. I told them ahead of time, I don’t know how many shows you are going to watch. It might be 2 or it might be 5. When I get off the call, I will come and get you and it will be time to get off. OK mom!

I *try* and use proactive measures as often as I can with Keener (4) and Grace (almost 3). Giving them a warning or heads up prior to a transition is a tool I used with my students all of the time. Simply letting them know before what they can expect usually helps manage expectations. It’s no different for adults. It’s why we have agendas for meetings — managing time and expectations is important.

After the zoom call, I went upstairs. He was about to select a new show on the iPad and I let him know it was time to get off. He explained how he wanted to make sure he “saved” the show he was about to watch. I asked to see the iPad and informed him that I knew the exact episode and season: Season 2 of Chico Bon Bon, Mountain of Lost Socks.

What felt like a switch flipped and next thing I knew, Keener was screaming, crying, and making very little sense.

Inspired by the experts

I had just listened to Dr. Tina Payne Bryson and Dr. Becky Bailey. They both provide the constant reminders I need on how to remain calm when my kids need it the most. Both were interviewed on the podcast Tilt Parenting which I had been listening to earlier in the day. The perfect practice opportunity was right in front of me, staring me in the face.

Tina Payne Bryson just wrote a new book titled, “The Power of Showing Up.” The basis of the book is that kids (and all people) need to feel the 4 S’s: safe, seen, soothed and secure. That showing up “is really about being present and attuned to what’s happening in the moment with our children.” Bryson explains on the episode that our kids need us to “show up” for them the most when they are in distress. This helps our children form connections in their brain that when they have a need, it will be met.

This is why I am the perfect parent when my kids are asleep. My nervous system isn’t being triggered and I know exactly how I want to respond when they are in distress. When my kids are:

  • Yelling
  • Hitting
  • Whining
  • Complaining
  • Arguing
  • Fighting

I want to be the calm presence they need me to be. There is no one I love more in this world than these little people. Bryson and Bailey are telling me that the greatest gift I can give them is 1. Free and 2. In my control. This is amazing news. And also extremely difficult.

iPad melt down

“I didn’t get to watch ANY shows!! I never get to watch iPad! My show is lost! I want to watch one hundred fifty thousand million shows next time!! It’s not fair!”

As I said, I had the perfect opportunity staring me in the face. I channeled those inspirational doctors and put their words into practice:

You’re mad. You wanted to keep watching the iPad (what I’m thinking is are you kidding me? You just watched for an hour and you have the nerve to complain?!)

Keener: “I’m NOT mad!”

I’m here. I’m going to help you.


Again, the words that I typically would have used I had to use every ounce of my being not to sputter such as: “If this is how you act after getting the iPad, we are never going to watch the iPad ever again!”

Looking past the behavior

Here’s what I have learned: it’s not about the iPad. My job is to look past the words and behavior and meet his emotional needs: You are upset. You were excited to continue doing something that was just taken away and you didn’t see it coming. You had a plan to watch Chico Bon Bon and that plan was interrupted — which is frustrating.

By staying calm, I was able to realize that what he needed was help dealing with this unmet expectation.

How do I do that? The same way I would help an adult who had the skills to ask using less triggering ways:

  • listen more than talk
  • remain calm
  • empathize
  • validate their feelings
  • remain calm
  • not try to talk them in or out of their feelings
  • present myself as open and nurturing
  • remain calm

How to remain calm

Well isn’t this the million dollar question? I’ve had an epiphany that remaining calm is in my control. Yes, the behavior my kids can display can absolutely trigger my nervous system. And the screaming and complaining is far from enjoyable. However, I am a 34 year old adult and I don’t have to join in their tantrum. I have been listening to these brilliant people like Dr. Bailey, Dr. Payne Bryson and Dr. Chatterjee. They all focus on helping you stay grounded no matter what challenge is going on around you. The following have been what has helped me the most this past week:

  • Staying calm is what my kids need from me
  • Wanting my kids to feel that when they have big feelings, my mom will help me
  • When my kids are at their worst, they need me the most
  • I can say no to their behavior but yes to their experience/emotions

Language Shift

Instead of saying…Say…
I don’t want to hear about itI want to help you
When you stop yelling, I’ll talk to youI’m here. You’re safe.
Stop cryingYou’re upset. You don’t want me to go.
AnythingNothing… just be present

More to come as I begin to view each meltdown as an opportunity for me to grow.


  1. Your column this week is especially great for grandparents as well! We have a way of “remembering” our own children didn’t have these tantrums! Thank you Jenzie!! Hugs😘

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