How to Handle Tantrums, Meltdowns, and General Unrest
When I was coaching one time, I asked the dad in the family what he did to express his feelings in a healthy way. He stared blankly at me as if to ask, “What feelings? Are parents allowed to have feelings?”
This is a very common theme amongst parents. We often think that in order to be “good” parents, we shouldn’t have feelings.
That is just plain not true. In fact, the worst thing you can do for your kids is to act like you don’t have feelings. How will they know how to express their feelings in a healthy way if you don’t provide a strong example for them?
Kids have big feelings. Parents do, too. Click <here> to find out how to support your kids when they are having big feelings, and how to set the example for them.
First, shift your perception. I prefer the word “meltdown” to “tantrum”. “Tantrum” implies anger, defiance, and disobedience, and inspires your opposition. “Meltdown” implies overwhelm, lack of control, and a need for help, and inspires your compassion. When your child is overwhelmed by big feelings, he or she needs your compassion, not your opposition.
Next, think ahead and set your child up for success. Meltdowns are caused by overwhelm, lack of control OR hunger, thirst, or tiredness. DON’T spend a whole day at the mall when you know that your child can’t handle it. DO bring along healthy snacks and drinks. Every child is different. Know your children and plan ahead to meet their needs.
No matter how much you plan ahead, most children will have meltdowns sometimes. It’s a normal and natural part of growing up. To support your child’s big feelings, no matter the age of the child, show them that you hear and understand them by reflecting what you see about their feelings, needs, and wants. For a toddler, use very simple language. For all ages, reflect tone and body language, too.
For a toddler: “Yes! You WANT that little truck!” (Stomp your foot.)
For your elementary child: “I hear you! You really are NOT in the mood for spaghetti AGAIN!” (Speak emphatically.)
For your teenager: “I get it! This whole situation is really, really frustrating for you.” (Reflect your teen’s tone.)
Then, KEEP LISTENING while your child talks or shows you his or her feelings. Your child may be kicking and screaming, but the more you reflect and listen, the shorter the meltdown will be. (Unless you have been shutting down feelings for a while – if so, reflecting will give your child permission to let it ALLLL out, and meltdowns may get worse before they get better.)
At another time, when your child is NOT melting down, clarify which behaviours are okay with big feelings, and which aren’t. (These will likely be different at home or when out.) During the meltdown, if your child is doing things that are unacceptable, firmly repeat, “You CAN stomp feet, yell, jump up and down, punch pillows, run around, or growl when you’re upset.” With smaller children, give fewer options to keep it simple.
Then manage the situation to prevent the unacceptable behaviour (ie put away things your child is breaking, lovingly hold the child so they cannot hit their sister, take a loud child outside if they are disrupting the restaurant).
Lastly, help your child say what they need to say. “You CAN say, ‘I did NOT like that ONE BIT!!!'” or “You CAN say, ‘I need you to be fair when you play games with me!!'”
And, all the time, set the example. If you’ve been yelling AT your children or expressing your feelings in an aggressive or unacceptable way when you’re upset, instead growl and stomp around, do the “mad dance”, or otherwise release your energy harmlessly into the Universe, then come back into conversation with your child when you’ve gotten it all out and are able to be respectful.
YES, mom and dad! You CAN stomp around, yell, jump up and down, punch pillows, run around, or growl when you’re upset! Just don’t direct negative energy AT anyone or at breakable things. What’s acceptable in every home is different, but I encourage you to broaden your idea of what is acceptable behaviour to express emotions.
As your next step, if you need extra support, give me a call and let’s set up some coaching time – I’d love to help you to stay connected with your kids, and to help you to help them thrive in today’s rapidly changing world. Enjoy, and please comment below about how YOU help your children through tantrums, meltdowns, and general unrest…I love to hear from you!