This is the second article in our two-part series on Epic Meltdowns. You know the ones – loud, explosive, seemingly irrational and tough on parental nerves. First things first, Epic meltdowns part 1: What’s really going on looks at the big emotions underneath our children’s big behaviours. Once we’ve got some perspective on the situation, then we want to find some ways to RESPOND. Here are some ideas.
Be your child’s calm through the turbulence
A child looks to you, their parent, to lead them through their turbulence. But if we are stuck in our own turbulence, we have very little to work with in that moment. When you can calm your own inner storm, your child will sense this and feel more relaxed. Easier said than done – yet your composure is catchy. If your child senses they have the power to unravel you, then it reinforces the idea that they are too much and too hard to handle. Alternatively, when your child learns that no matter how explosive the meltdown you remain calm, cool and confident, then it reinforces the idea that they are loved, secure and supported. Even on their worst days.
How to find your calm: Find a way that works for you; it might help to take a breath, put your phone down, give yourself just a moment to accept the chaos of the current situation and remind yourself that although it is uncomfortable, you have the skills to handle this moment.
Offer your child unconditional acceptance
When was the last time you experienced unconditional acceptance, especially in the middle of a very difficult moment? For most of us, this is unheard of. We feel afraid to offer a child such a thing, because surely it is like saying to them: you can be as revolting as you like and we will allow it and condone it. Nope, that’s not something to worry about.
Acceptance actually gives the message that ‘all your feelings are welcome in this family’. Yes, the frustration that your brother is always touching your stuff. Yes, the jealousy of seeing how well your sister gets on with the family. Yes, the loathing you feel about yourself and all the mean things you feel about your family members. What if your child was to hear you say that all those feelings could exist and were safe to share?
What if you were to feel that your behaviour didn’t turn everyone off you? That somehow, you were still safe and loved despite your big feelings and big behaviour? What if your unconditional acceptance was first out of the starting block?
Parents are usually keener to get to the ‘What punishment and consequence should I use for this behaviour?’ stage. They’re keen to find answers to questions like ‘How can I make my child see this is not right or acceptable behaviour?’ and ‘What words do they need to hear to learn this behaviour is unacceptable?’ Parents often hold a fear that this six-year-old behaviour will turn into a fourteen-year-old monster.
When unconditional acceptance is freely offered and available on tap, even in response to an epic meltdown, it gives our kids something solid to tether to so they can let go of the fight. We know that children want to behave properly, they want to please us and they want to feel that they have a certain mastery over their emotions. We are aiming for ‘first things first’ because without acceptance of all the feelings, your child can continue to spiral out of control, despite your pleadings, punishments and best intentions.
How to show unconditional acceptance: Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Try and imagine what they are feeling (tired, hungry, sore, criticised, overwhelmed or not good enough) and offer them your comfort and your empathy. ‘Yes, I know you are tired of sharing, these are your toys, and you want to keep them all for yourself. It’s okay – I get it, it’s hard to share’.
Use both, your kindness and your firmness
Sitting alongside this acceptance is your kind firmness. We need to be kind before we can be firm. Both kindness and firmness are important, and so is the order: kind, then firm. When our child’s meltdown is first met with our warmth, our compassion and our kindness – it does not mean that we accept the behaviour, but in our child’s moment of feeling overwhelmed, we are able to ‘catch them’ to give them confidence emotionally that they can then get on and resolve the issue. So kind, and then firm.
A couple of things to note about firmness. Firmness only works when we use our calm, cool-headed confidence. Our firmness is really saying to our child – I am taking the lead and I am setting limits here. Kids feel safe when they know what is expected of them. When we can communicate confidently what we expect from our kids, we find our swagger, and our kids get theirs back again too!
As parents we can expect our kids to put the books back that they threw around the room. We can ask for them to find a way to say sorry, whether that be in an action or a note. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. Our kids eventually will learn over time that we mean what we say and life is just more enjoyable when they play by the rules.
How to use kindness and firmness: Practise your firm tone of voice. It’s not a screetchy, yelly, veins popping on your neck shouty kind of voice. Instead it’s a solid and straight up ‘I mean business’ kind of voice. We might say something like ‘When you have cooled down, I want to see all those books back on the bookshelf’ or ‘Can we try that again please honey, this time I want to hear your manners with Mummy’ or ‘I didn’t say in ten minutes, I said now and I’m waiting, thanks.’
We set ourselves up for success as parents when we create a safe and secure environment for our kids to experience all their feelings, even the hard and horrible ones. When we can connect with our kids right in the middle of an epic meltdown, in their hardest and scariest moments, we are teaching them one of life’s most valuable lessons – how to be kind to themselves and to the people they love, even in the the middle of super stressful and challenging circumstances (like a pandemic!).
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