Managing the Meltdown Monster - Unhurried Mom
temper tantrum

Managing the Meltdown Monster

The Meltdown Monster… Sometimes you can see it coming from a mile away. 

*cue Jaws theme song* 

Your kid has been playing at the trampoline park for 2 hours…

[duh dun]

without a water or snack break…

[duh dun duh dun]

and you’re about to tell them that it’s time for the fun to come to an end.

[duh-dun duh-dun duh-dun duh-dun]

*cue full-on toddler meltdown*

If you’re lucky, you’re able to head it off before it starts… but let’s be real, we’ve all had those moments where we have to carry a kid out kicking and screaming so loud that ALL eyes are on you.

I’m not the only one with that lovely experience, right? 

I’ll never forget the first time it happened. It was right before my oldest child’s second birthday. I had taken cupcakes to his preschool to celebrate his birthday.  I had made the mistake of letting him have two cupcakes….

Don’t laugh.

Okay, you can laugh. I laugh about it now. Such a rookie mistake. 

I can honestly say I have never made that mistake again. The memories of the flailing, screaming, sugar-crashing toddler that my pregnant self had to wrestle out of the grocery store, providing a theatrical presentation to ALLLL the other patrons in the store an hour later is seared into my brain to make sure of it. 

We’ve talked in this post about managing your own emotions.  Now let’s talk about some ways to manage the meltdown monster called your child. 

Let’s start with identifying their triggers. Have you already noticed that every time you do _______[fill in the blank]_____  your child ends up having a meltdown? If so, congratulations! You’ve found a trigger. There are some triggers that are pretty obvious [ahem, like having a sugar crash after eating two cupcakes] but others may be a little harder to identify. If your child is having meltdowns often and you’re not always sure what the cause is, start a journal to record the events leading up to the meltdown and see if you can find commonalities. What was happening in the hours leading up to the meltdown? Were they hungry? Were they thirsty? Were they tired? Were they overstimulated? When you begin to record everything that happened leading up to the meltdown, you can begin to see patterns and learn what specific triggers your child has. Once you know your child’s triggers, you can make an effort to head it off before it starts. 

If the meltdown monster always comes out at 4:00 when you’re starting to cook dinner (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything….) it may be that they’re hungry and need an option of a healthy snack that will curb their hunger without ruining their dinner. If your meltdown monster comes out every time the weather is bad and she can’t play outside, it may be that she needs some gross motor/high energy activities that she can do inside to burn up some energy. If your meltdown monster comes out every time you are out-and-about the whole day, it may be that he needs a slower schedule and can’t handle as many activities back to back.

Click here to read more about teaching your child to identify their own triggers and begin to learn to self regulate.

Alright, let’s hear it. What’s your most embarrassing “dragged my kid out of a store kicking and screaming” story?

P.S. Before you go!

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  • Regina Sockwell

    IMy daughter loves to play checkers and is quite good at it to be 7 years old. Here is the issue…she gates to lose. She has a melt down every time she begins to lose and feels pressure. I must admit, I am one of those parents that do not just let the child win “where I lose on purpose”. However, I have found myself lately doing just that in order to keep the “melt-down” from happening. If not, I end up closing down the game before it’s finished and she is crying. I want to be able to enjoy the game without having to give in to her but I want it to be enjoyable for her too whether she wins or loses. Any advice? (There are times that she wins without me “letting” her win).

    • unhurriedmom

      I love playing games with kids because it gives such a great opportunity to teach them how to respond graciously when they don’t win. The reality is that they aren’t always going to win or be “the best” at everything and teaching them how to respond to that graciously is such a gift we can give them.

      I would find a time when she is already fairly calm and happy and do a little exercise with her. Make this as fun, lighthearted, and playful as possible. Say:
      “I’ve noticed that it’s hard for you to enjoy the game when you aren’t winning. Games are supposed to be fun, but if you get upset and cry when you aren’t winning, it’s not fun or enjoyable for either of us. It’s okay to be disappointed when you don’t win, but it’s not okay to cry or pout. We CAN say something like “Aw bummer!” “Oh man!” or “It’s okay, I’ll get you next time!” but we don’t cry, pout, or quit. We’re going to play a game now so that we can practice how to react when we lose.”

      Play one round and let her win so that you can model the desired reaction. Make it obvious. During the next round, try to win so that she has the opportunity to practice what you’ve just discussed. Throughout the whole game, whether you’re winning or losing, be re-iterating in a light, playful way, how we can respond when we aren’t winning. As soon as you can see her starting to get worked up, stop her and say playfully, “Wait a minute! That’s not how we react when we lose is it? Try again!” If she responds in even a slightly improved way over what she normally does, praise and congratulate her for her response. Keep playing and practicing over and over. Whether you’re winning or losing, continue to teach the desired response either through modeling (if you’re losing) or coaching her through it (if she’s losing).

      Sometimes it’s also helpful to jump in with praise and encouragement before she’s even had the chance to respond badly. For instance, if it is looking like she’s going to lose but she hasn’t cried yet (even if she’s starting to get a little unglued but she hasn’t totally lost it yet) you can jump in and say something like “Wow! You are really doing a great job with your reactions right now! I am so proud of you! You are really getting good at this! I knew you could do it!” It gives them a little taste of success before they’ve even had much of a chance to fail and can motivate them towards the desired behavior in the future.

      See how that goes and if she’s receptive to it at all. If she still has a hard time buying in and managing her emotions when she’s losing, another option is to role play it with dolls or stuffed animals if she will play along with it. You can create the scenario where the stuffed animals are playing a game and they take turns winning and losing and practicing responding graciously and appropriately regardless of whether they are the winner or loser. Then you can translate it to how she should respond the next time you play together.

      Thank you so much for your question! You can also use some of the strategies/lingo with the engine plate from this post in with this little exercise. I would love to hear how it goes if you try any of those tips with her.

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