You know the situation: it’s a regular enough evening. You are starting the process of getting everyone on board with the idea of bedtime and then out of the blue your child has the meltdowns of all meltdowns. It starts with something small and it very quickly escalates from there. It lasts for what feels like hours and culminates in two very stressed out groups - them and you.
Afterwards you feel bad for how you reacted. There are lots of reasons for why it happened the way it did, including: you were all tired, you were starting to wind down for the night and weren’t prepared for an explosion, or it was a difficult day for either one of you and this is its way of showing itself. But once everything has calmed down, ie, said child has fallen asleep from exhaustion, it is worth reflecting on the real reasons for the meltdown and looking at how it could have been handled better or differently.
Here are some ideas/tools that can help in those precious seconds preceding a breakdown, during the meltdown and in the aftermath of it all:
- Remain calm (as much as is humanly possible) and take a few deep breaths before responding
- Leave for a few moments
- Give them a choice (but make sure all options are still in line with what you said originally)
- Be consistent, children need to know where they stand with you
- Paraphrase and reflect back what you hear them say. This will help your child to find words to express feelings and shows them that you empathise and listen
- Don’t reason with them in the moment of the tantrum or have deep conversations, you can always come back to it later if needs be
- Ask them to draw a picture to show you how cross they are
- Let your child have an anger log or diary
I heard this recently and thought it was good advice: “Don’t try to control kids when they are angry, focus on trying to control yourself.”
If you deal with the situation in a positive way your children also learn from your example about how to deal well with difficult situations and difficult emotions. It’s important as parents to remain as calm as possible. But this is hard when busy, tired or stressed already. And Murphy’s Law is that when your juggling work, dinner, cleaning, bringing in washing (mobile phone ringing in the background) the kids will have a huge fight which will find its way to you and call on your final reserves of patience (those ones you don’t know are there but magically appear for short bursts of time when you really need. Warning - treat these nuggets of patience with respect, they are not infinite).
These are the moments to lose the plot completely or fake calmness until you can really find it in you. Try some of the tips above and don’t forget to let your child know you love them even with all the tantrums and anger.
Jannah Walshe is a counsellor and psychotherapist based in Castlebar and Westport. A fully accredited member of The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, she can be contacted via www.jannahwalshe.ie, or at firstname.lastname@example.org or 085 1372528.