5 Ways to Calm Tantrums and Meltdowns
Let’s paint the scene:
You just got home from work, and you are now cooking dinner. Your children are watching a TV show in the next room. You’ve agreed on only watching one show before dinner. They have agreed and given their blessings on turning it off when they need to. Now dinner is done, and BAM! Mega-meltdown-epic-blowout time.
They may hurdle words like “I want to watch more,” “I hate you, you’re mean,” “I’m going to break the TV,” “I’m never going to dinner.” Total emotional overload. Sound familiar?
What they are really having right now is a total meltdown. They have flipped their lid, and their logical brain has totally shut off. They are unable to make a smooth transition and have lost all control over their actions. What to do?
Yell back? Threaten? Rationalize that they can watch more later? Turn it back on? Grasp for anything to just make it stop…even if that means eating dinner in the living room and watching one more show?
These are my favorite moments to work through. Why? Because these are big emotions at play, and learning how to weather these emotions when they happen can be golden. I’m working on a HUGE mega big emotions post soon to launch, but for now I want to offer up five tools to use to help your child during a meltdown.
1. Do not join.
“When they go low, we go high.”
- Michelle Obama
Calm yourself first. As difficult and hard as that is, give yourself the gift of a pause to take a breath (or five). When your child’s behavior goes into meltdown mode, you do not need to join and meltdown with them. Staying high and in control of your own temperament will help guide them through this difficult time.
Click the TV off, cue meltdown, and then PAUSE. Breathe. Maybe leave the room and compose yourself. Unless your child is in danger, they can cry for a little bit while you decide how to move forward calmly. Make sure that you are in control of your own emotions, and then respond.
This is a practice that will seem slow at first, but eventually, you will be able to work through it instantaneously. For now, break it down to small baby steps to start.
2. Skip logic.
“Your child is not giving you a hard time. They are having a hard time.”
- The Whole-Brained Child
Keep all logic out of this moment. When meltdowns happen, your child is totally shut off to anything you’re saying that would possibly make sense. And when you spurt it out, they are not able to receive it, and it just pisses you off more. So just shut off the logic.
Here, validation plays a huge role.
Click the TV off, cue meltdown, PAUSE, breathe and say “You feel so mad that the TV was turned off. You were having a great time and felt excited to watch and now it’s over. You’re feeling so angry right now.”
Your child was having a great time and now is upset that it stopped. They’re upset. Let them feel upset. Just let them cry and feel sad. Validate authentically and help them to calm down to move through.
DO NOT DISMISS AND DENY.
“You’re going to watch another show again. Stop crying, you’re fine. Let’s eat.”
It won’t work in the long run. It will make things worse. And then the behavior will pop up time and time again. Over and over and over and over and over again...
3. Be quiet.
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”
- Ram Dass
When words are not working, stop using them. Just hold space for your child to cry and feel upset. Keep your face calm and understanding, relax your demeanor, and just stay with them while they are working through feeling upset. Don’t add fuel to the fire here. Just ride the wave.
Sometimes this is a great time to utilize a visual, such as a calm-down jar, a stop sign, or a book to look through together while they work on calming down. These tools can be placed in a spot in your house that is easily accessed by your child. This is a space for them to go when they are having a meltdown to help work back into calm, either solo or together.
**THIS IS NOT A TIMEOUT CORNER.**
"You look angry, let's go calm down."
Is completely different than:
"You are angry, go to your calm down corner."
(It takes practice)
“We need four hugs a day for survival. Eight for maintenance. Twelve for growth.”
- Virginia Satir
Feeling out of control of your emotions can be a really scary place. There have been moments like this for me as an adult, and having a physical connection can truly ground me.
While your child is having a meltdown about the TV being turned off, feel for them in that moment: they are having a difficult time and possibly just need a hug to center and calm down. Helping them calm down does not mean giving into their behavior by turning the TV show back on. This just helps them get to the state of mind where they can listen about how the TV is not getting turned back on.
Offering comfort in these moments is not permissive. Turning on the TV is.
5. Use connecting phrases.
“Connection is the energy that is created between two people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment.”
- Brene Brown
Offering connection in the middle of a tantrum is very counterintuitive. Almost everyone of my clients say this to me when we start working together. Offering connection is just allowing for your child to calm down before moving into the redirection. Connecting phrases helps to pull them out of tantrum mode and into engagement. “I am here,” “You’re really upset but trying so hard to calm down,” and “I will stay right here while you're calming down” are my typical go-to phrases.
All of these tools take a lot of practice and time to implement. When your child starts screaming at you, all you want is for it to stop. Giving into the tantrum sets up all the future tantrums and meltdowns, typically escalating them. Learning to select how and when to respond to each meltdown is key in getting them to stop.
Start by focusing on building your patience as a foundation. Give yourself the pause to take a deep breath before responding to a meltdown. This is a great place to start. Take that pause to allow yourself to decide how you will move forward.
Remember, you do not have to attend every party you’re invited to.