Sometimes you can see your child’s meltdown coming from a mile away. Your child is hungry and tired. You’re trying to get dinner on the table, but you keep getting interrupted and it’s getting late. Suddenly one kid rips a toy from your other kids’ hand and … yep… there it is… the meltdown monster. Need some tips for managing meltdowns and taming tantrums? No worries! I LOVE to talk about this stuff! So let’s chat…
One way to minimize meltdowns in kiddos is to increase the predictability in their day. Having a lack of predictability can make things feel out of control for kids, and when they feel out of control they may try to regain control through meltdowns or other less than desirable behaviors. Help increase the predictability in your child’s day by giving them a visual calendar and schedule cards! Subscribe to the Unhurried Mom community below and receive your free visual schedule cards as a thank you!
Self Regulating and Co-Regulating
Ultimately we want to teach our kids to be able to regulate their own emotions, or self regulate. But right now it is your job as the parent to co-regulate with them. Over time, your child will start to learn the strategies that you are teaching them and will internalize them so that they can do them independently.
*Please Note: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase the products, I will receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I genuinely use and love. If you do decide to use these links, thank you so much for your support!*
Real quick, you may be wondering who I am and why I think I can tell you anything about managing meltdowns and taming tantrums.
Well, first of all, I’m a mama to 3 kiddos. I also have a degree in Human Development and Family Science and I have 10 years of experience working with families and children in various professional settings, and I’d love to help you too. Most of what I know about managing meltdowns and taming tantrums comes from Dr. Karyn Purvis. Dr. Purvis did lots of ground breaking research on helping parents of adopted or foster children find hope and healing, but so much of her stuff is also applicable to any child. You can find her book, The Connected Child here.
Okay so back to managing meltdowns and taming tantrums…
When your child is worked up, it is because your child has a need that they don’t know how to identify, express, or meet on their own. It is your job to help them learn how to identify and express their needs in appropriate ways – without a meltdown – so that they can get their needs met. This is a process that happens over time.
*Note: Before trying these ideas, you should know that every child is different. What works to de-escalate one child may not work for another child. What works for your child one day may not work a different day. Use your parent gut and don’t push something that you know will escalate your child further.*
5 Tips for Managing Meltdowns and Taming Tantrums
1. Stay calm
If your emotions get escalated and you raise your voice and level of intensity to match theirs, you’re going to end up with a shouting match. Not only will it not accomplish what you’re hoping, but you won’t have taught them anything. Instead what you will have communicated is that getting worked up and yelling is a totally appropriate way to respond to out of control feelings.
You are the parent.
You need to model the behavior you want your child to one day learn by staying calm and in control of yourself. This means staying in control of your tone, volume, words, and body language.
Yes, this is much easier said than done. But take heart! The more you practice it, the easier it will get!
2. Your first goal is to help them calm down.
Do not try to discipline, lecture, or discuss anything in the moment. They cannot learn when they are escalated. If you try to discipline them, it will likely serve to continue to escalate things in both them AND you. Chances are high that it will result in frustration on both of your parts, and the lesson you are trying to teach will not be learned.
Your goal is to get them back to a place of calm before you try anything else.
Calm Down Strategies:
-Redirect your child
An excellent way to redirect their attention is by offering a snack and water. Sometimes outbursts can be caused by dehydration or a drop in blood sugar. Offering a snack can help your child to calm down enough for you to be able to discuss the situation together calmly.
-Give them a big bear hug and help them to take deep breaths
The proprioceptive input from you (with the bear hug) and the deep breathing can provide a calming effect.
Time in is different than time out. Time out sends your child away from you. Time in invites your child to stay close as you help them to calm down. Time in can look like you holding them on your lap and helping them take deep breaths. It can look like them sitting right next to you for a few minutes until they’ve calmed down. The point is that time in is a break that gives your child the chance to calm down.
-Calm down corner
You can create a calm down corner in your home where your child knows they can go any time they need to so that they can calm down. You can fill your calm down corner with soft things like blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals. Other good things to include are books, quiet activities, water, non-messy and non-perishable snack, and a weighted blanket. *(Note – the weight of a weighted blanket will vary depending on the weight of your child so make sure you get one that is the appropriate weight for your child!) Also note a calm down corner is a safe place where your child always knows they can go. It is not a place to send them as a discipline, punishment, or consequence. That will reduce the effectiveness of the calm down corner.
3. Discuss things once your child has calmed down.
You may say things like “You know, I saw that you got really worked up. I wonder what it was that was bothering you.”
You can help the child to identify what triggered their reaction.
You may be able to suggest things like “I wonder if you were hot and thirsty and then when your sister took that toy away it really just made you angry.”
When you phrase it as an “I wonder” statement, it gives the child the open door to agree with you if you’re correct, without putting pressure on the child by asking a more direct question.
When having these discussions we ALWAYS use the engine plate analogy by Karyn Purvis, which I discuss in this post about helping children to manage big emotions.
4. Have them try a re-do.
This may not work in every situation. If your child is still on edge, it may not be a good time to have them do a re-do.
If your child has calmed down enough, a re-do can be a really powerful tool. It gives them the opportunity to practice the desired behavior and it ends the encounter on a positive note.
For instance, if your child had a meltdown when their sister came and took their toy you can help them practice (1) using their words to ask for the toy back or (2) coming to tell you calmly what the problem is and ask for your help.
Re-enact the scenario and give them the chance to respond appropriately.
Make it playful. Role play. Let them play the part of the parent and you play their part and demonstrate the ideal response. Then reverse it and have them play themselves and you play the parent again.
This playful interaction is so important. It helps to continue to de-escalate the situation and builds connection between you and your child.
Once your child has done it appropriately praise them out the wazoo. “Great job! I knew you could do it!”
5. ALWAYS end on a note of affirmation and connection.
Hug your child. Tell them you love them. Tell them you’re so glad you’re their mom.
When your child is having a meltdown remember – they have a need that they don’t know how to identify, express, and or meet by themselves! It is YOUR JOB as the parent to help teach them how to come back to a baseline of calm.
Quick tip about managing your own emotions:
I realize that this level of response takes a lot of time, a lot of self control. It may require you to take a look at how good you are at regulating yourself. If you feel like you need some work in that area, see this post about Taming the Mommy Monster – (‘cause we all have those days… am I right?).
Also, guess what, mommy can have a calm down spot too! Make a space in your house that your child knows is your calm down spot. You can model the habit of taking a time out to calm down when you need it for your child.
Make sure that you stay on top of your own self-care too. If your child is having a lot of meltdowns or tantrums, it can be draining on you as the mom. It is NOT selfish to prioritize your self care. It is essential. For more tips on fitting in self care when you hardly have time to pee by yourself, see the posts below!
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