Let me ask you a question… You’re in the middle of shopping and your kid wants to grab a bag of gummy bears and you just said no… what happens?
If they’re anything like my SUPER strong willed daughter, they’re going right to that floor to have a full on meltdown in the middle of the store.
Embarrassing? Yes… Unusual? No…
Every kid, easy or not will have a meltdown at least a few times in their short baby-hood lifetime.
The good thing is that it won’t last for 18 years… I mean, have you seen an adult throw themselves on the ground? I’m hoping you said “No” 🙂
Even better? They’re not doing it to drive us crazy even though it may seem like it sometimes.
So Why Do Kids Have Meltdowns
In order to tame it, we need to understand it…
Tantrums and meltdowns are some of the biggest (and annoying) problems we’ll face as parents. And if these meltdowns happen past the terrible twos (like mine) it can be a super big problem for us.
Here are the 2 most common reasons kids have meltdowns:
- They didn’t get what they wanted. That gummy bear you just said no to? Well… they’re thinking “I didn’t get the gummy bear so I’m just gonna lose it right here on the floor because I don’t know what else to do… WAAAHHHHHHH!”
- They know that if they lose their shit, you’ll end up giving them what they want. Yes… you have a HUGE part to play in this game.
Kids between 1-4 tend to have the highest amount of meltdowns.
Kids Age 1-2
Kids from 1-2 don’t have the language skills they need to tell you what they want and need. When they can’t tell you, they scream and cry instead.
Kids Age 2-3
Kids from 2-3 have better language skills but they don’t quite understand how to control their emotions. So when they’re frustrated, angry, or impatient, they decide to throw a tantrum instead.
Kids Age 3-4
Kids from 3-4 know how to communicate their wants and needs and they understand their feelings a bit more. At this age, they know what they want and they want to assert it. If YOU don’t give them what they want, it’s to the floor they go. It becomes more of a mild power struggle at this point.
How to Stop Meltdowns the Right Way
I have a strong willed child. She was born screaming and didn’t stop crying for the first 4 months of life.
She had extreme colic… extreme because it drove me crazy, straight to massive PPD.
The crying started every night at around 5 pm and lasted usually until 10 pm… Once until 1 am.
Colic, by definition, is excessive, uncontrollable crying that can’t be stopped… no one knows the reason since all medical tests have concluded that these “colicky” babies are quite healthy.
That “colic” in my daughter still continues in the form of being extremely strong-willed, or what others call “Difficult”. These are the steps that I took to stop meltdowns that she frequently had…
A word of caution. Any habit takes patience to fix… take adults for example. We can’t stop bad habits for the life of us… smoking, gambling, drinking or staying consistent with a diet or exercise routine.
With that said, you need to stay consistent with your kid. Don’t try this once and get frustrated because it didn’t work… If you want to stop drinking you have to keep at it… day by day… until it becomes permanent. So take that approach with your kid.
So let’s start…
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It’s proven that our words or thoughts strongly influence how we respond to life, and it’s true for our kids. If you’re always thinking that your child is difficult or hard to deal with, that’s exactly how you’re going to treat them… like a difficult bratty child.
In a world where we put so much emphasis on trying to raise adults who are confident leaders, instilling in them that they’re a difficult kid to deal with isn’t the route to go.
So redefine how you choose to see your kids. Here are common words that are used to describe a difficult child. See if you use any of these to describe your kid:
- cries all the time
Instead, try replacing those words with these:
- tenacious – they never give up
- energetic – they can go on for hours
- strong willed – they won’t cave into others opinions or needs
- spirited – they are determined and enthusiastic
- opinionated – they will tell you exactly what they think and feel
- committed – once they start, they’re not stopping
- selective – they surround themselves with things that’ll bring them joy
- doesn’t give up – they won’t stop for anyone
- enthusiastic – everything excites them about life
- flexible – they’re not stuck on just 1 possibility, everything is a possibility
- assertive – they speak up for what they want and believe
- persistent – they won’t stop at anything to get what they want
- curious – they’re always asking about things and exploring this world
- charismatic – they can convince anyone to do anything
- optimistic – they don’t give up because they know things will always work out
- determined – they go after what they want
My daughter is all of the above, but I personally choose to call my daughter strong willed… because that’s exactly what she is. She won’t back down or give in once she sets her mind on something.
Look at all those words that you just replaced “difficult” with. Now, isn’t that the type of adult you want to raise?
These are traits that are praised when we’re adults but suppressed when we’re kids because quite frankly, to raise someone who’s that strong requires more from us as parents than those kids that are “easier”…. but that comes with the territory of raising a leader.
So start redefining the words you use to describe your kid… you’ll start to see them in a WHOLE new way.
2. Keep Your Cool
Easier said than done, I know.
Being prepared and having a plan of attack for these moments will make a world of a difference.
Here are things I recommend:
Step 1 Remove your kid from the situation
If you’re in a public place you have to be willing and ready to remove your kid from the situation once they start their meltdown. Are you at the store? Take them outside immediately. Do NOT give in to their demands or you just became putty in their hands.
If we’re going to a place my daughter loves I tell her before we get there that I will go back home if she has a meltdown. But Empty Threats aren’t any good… be ready to keep your promise. If she acts up you remove her and go straight home.
Step 2 Learn to meditate
I wrote a whole blog post on how to get started as a beginner. I learned to meditate to treat my severe Postpartum Depression. Not that you’re gonna sit down on the floor next to your screaming kid and start meditating, but it teaches your mind to relax and stay calm in those moments you need it most. Preparing yourself with coping strategies for when these moments happen make a world of difference.
Step 3 Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
This is one of the main strategies of Mindful Meditation. Breathe INTO that knot you feel in your chest or tummy. Nothing fancy. When my daughter had a meltdown I used to feel a tightness in my tummy from anxiety. So I used to breathe into that anxiety and I would feel much better.
Step 4 Count from 10-1
While breathing into that knot in your chest or tummy, count backward from 10-1.
It’s much more effective to parent from a place of “sort of” calm state than from a place of irritation and anger. You don’t want to fall into the same state as your kid.
3. Ignore Your Child
Ignore your child if you’re at home. They’ll get over the crying.
If you’re in a public place like the mall or grocery store, remove them from the situation and take them outside where you’re away from judging eyes so you can let them do their thing… And once you’re in the parking lot, ignore them!
Trying to reason during a meltdown doesn’t work because their emotions are taking over and they’re quite literally just out of their mind at this point.
Think of it this way, when someone’s drowning it’s not the best time to teach him to swim. When your kid is hot and heavy into his meltdown, he’s drowning in his emotions, so reasoning (teaching) with him is not the best approach.
4. Prevention of Meltdown Triggers
If you’re aware of what triggers the tantrum and it’s something you can prevent, avoid the activity or situation.
But do this sparingly. Here’s why…
As hard as it is for us as parents to deal with meltdowns, we need our kids to deal with tough emotions. It’s the ONLY way they’ll learn to build the “emotional intelligence” they need as they get older.
If we keep avoiding situations or moments that’ll make them uncomfortable we’re taking away the precious opportunities that they have to build necessary internal tools to weather tough situations when they’re older.
Another thing you can do is let them know up front what will happen if they have another meltdown.
And whatever that “WHAT” is make sure it’s related to the meltdown. Also, it goes without saying that you have to keep your word or it’s just a useless threat.
This is especially good because the next time it happens you can place the responsibility of the punishment on them, and not on you.
You’re teaching them that they can control the outcome, you’re teaching them to take responsibility for their decisions, and you’re teaching them how to deal with their emotions.
The only thing is that you’ll have to deal with another possible meltdown when you reinforce your punishment… and that’s OK! Remember that these are emotions that they need to learn to deal with to become a functioning adult.
5. Focus Attention on Something Else
If your kid is younger, say 1-2, you can focus their attention on something else that might intrigue him, like a teddy bear or a book.
Especially when you’re out and about, you can catch them right before they’re about to have a meltdown and pull out a teddy bear or book from your bag… make sure you fill your bag with surprise goodies that’ll catch them off guard.
Don’t give them ANYTHING like cookies, candies, treats or anything that they’ll associate with reward. You don’t want them to have another meltdown just so they can get a treat… you don’t want to cause that association.
If they are older, don’t divert their attention. They need to learn how to cope with their feelings. Diverting their attention away from the situation because they couldn’t get what they wanted won’t teach them the emotional skills that they need to deal with difficult situations as they get older.
For older kids use what we outlined in #1-4.
How This Stopped My Daughters Meltdown
So, my daughter LOVES playing with her cousins… more than eating candy! One day we had 3 of them visiting us from Florida so ALL the cousins, about 7 in total, planned to go bowling.
My daughter was having severe meltdowns during this time. So the morning of bowling I told her “if you cry today you won’t be able to go bowling.” (I used Strategy #4)
I forgot over what, but she had another one of her meltdowns… FULL BLOWN. To the point where my mother in law said “I’ve raised 4 kids and have 9 grandkids, but I’ve NEVER seen a kid cry like she does… EVER… she needs to be spanked!” (But I think she meant more like, she needs a good beat down!)
I let her just cry… didn’t say a word… and walked away. (I used strategy #3)
While away from her I had to stop and just be alone… to CALM DOWN myself… because my mother in laws suggestion seemed VERY appropriate in that moment. (I used strategy #2)
Of course, my daughter calmed down… it might’ve been 30 minutes or longer.
When she finally calmed down I told her “I told you that if you cry that you wouldn’t be able to go bowling, so today you won’t be able to go bowling)
… so she cried some more (KILL ME)
and I continued to ignore…
she eventually calmed down…
Her brother and daddy left to go bowling with everyone else… and she had to stay home.
And then all hell broke loose!
I picked her up (she was screaming and kicking at this point but I’m sure as hell stronger than a 3-year-old…) and took her to the room and put her on the bed.
… while she’s screaming and crying I just started reading a book (while fuming inside… but BREATHING as well)
Until she finally stopped… and I calmly said “I told you that you couldn’t go bowling if you cried. But you cried over ____, so now you have to stay home while everyone else is bowling. And because it’s nap time, you’re going to take a nap…”
And she quietly asks “mommy… can you stay in the woom wit me pweeze?”
“Yes, baby… I can”
And that stopped her meltdowns for a GOOD 6 months… because every time she was about to “start” her meltdown, I would gently remind her of consequences… and she knows I meant business she KNOWS I’ll go through with my word.
Why 6 months only? Nothing in life is permanent… after 6 months or so she kinda forgot that I meant business. So I had to rinse and repeat.
But… that is the life of a parent. Rinse and Repeat…
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[WORKBOOK]- How to Stop Meltdowns the Right Way