Parenting Skills: Dealing with Meltdowns in Children/Teens
It’s often a struggle handling your child’s meltdowns or big feelings. It’s helpful to recognize that you child's meltdown is a normal response to feeling frustrated, over-worked, or exhausted. Meltdowns serve the child by releasing tension and feeling better in the end. It is helpful to understand this early on to set realistic expectations for you child.
Children will not be happy all the time, and things will not always go their way. These can be hard lessons for any parent. Often, parents will try to provide everything for their children and keep them happy all the time. The truth is that children need to learn how to deal with big feelings while they are developing/growing, and they will need ways to solve problems on their own.
The question then becomes, how can a parent help their child deal with these big feelings in a health way? It is helpful for parents to keep in mind that their child's meltdown will end no matter what they do. Keeping that in mind can help the sense of urgency in reducing the tension all at once.
So, when you are in a big feeling or meltdown moment here are some parenting ideas for helping your child/teen:
1) Understand that big feelings do not have to be overwhelming to you the parent. If you can stay calm, you will be able to help your child form the best pathway out of their big feelings and into feeling better about themselves. This helps build confidence and allows them the skills they need to learn other responses.
2) Bubble blowing, crayons, music, fidgets and other tangible things may work best as distractions for children. You could even try giving your toddler or preschooler a peer-to-peer but controlled time alone in a different room. This will give them the space needed to calm down and express themselves, but also have someone with them to be safe and help take their attention away from things that are triggering their big feelings.
4) This is a good time for parents to practice active listening skills by paraphrasing what they think the child is feeling. This will help the child feel understood and validated. This can be done by saying things like, "I can see that you really don't like being tired. I will make sure we both get enough sleep tonight."
6) Good communication with your child is a must. You have to model good communication skills so that they can learn how to communicate with you effectively and appropriately throughout the day and into adulthood.
7) When the children are backtalking “sass”, your response can be to 1. Keep calm and try not to meet their energy. Bringing your energy down will guide them back to a calm energy 2. Acknowledge their feelings but listening and paraphrasing back what they are saying with “I am sure that was hard for you/upset you/made you sad/angry/etc.”. This way, the child still feels heard, but at the same time, they are being redirected back into a positive environment.
8) Parents tend to overreact sometimes because of how big feelings can feel. Parents need to be as patient as possible. It is ok for a parent to say things like, "I don't want this yelling thing to happen. I know that you are angry/sad/etc. and I want to listen to you and help you feel better." This will help when they're arguing with you
As a parent you want to allow for space for your child to feel heard and understood, but you also need to be sure you are not being abused by that child as well. Having boundaries set and a firm understanding of household rules and responsibilities can be useful for both you and your child.
Parents may require the help of a therapist to help them understand the child's behavior and help the child learn ways to manage their feelings healthily. It important to have those skills available for both of you so you can not only build a stronger relationship with your child, but also feel like you both are happy/validated.
It's also important for parents not to forget that every child is different. Some children have a worse time dealing with their frustrations than others.
If you have tried the strategies above and your child still has uncontrollable meltdowns, it may be time to ask for help from an expert who specializes in treating children by helping them learn skills to deal with these feelings and solve problems on their own.
One of the best things that can help your child/teen is to offer a hug or reassurance to your child and allow the emotions to run their course. Everyone has emotions and your child is still trying to navigate how to apply theirs.