When you're a parent you'll inevitably be forced to deal with the occasional meltdown. They can be surprising, heartbreaking, annoying, infuriating, embarrassing, and, for the most part, temporary. In fact, if you play your cards right they just might be avoidable. That's why I asked moms to share their tips on avoiding meltdowns, so all of us exhausted parents can try and mitigate those moments when our little ones have big feelings.
Of course, how one parent handles a potential tantrum doesn't mean that same method will work for you and yours. After all, parents tend to know what works best for their particular child. Some kids respond well to certain explanations, certain forms of discipline, certain rituals, and, well, you get the idea. With my son, I know that going anywhere that’s too loud and crowded is almost always a no-no. He’s not big on chaos or a lot of stimulation, so to avoid a tantrum I avoid those situations. I also know when his meal and nap times are and make sure to plan weekends around those times... as best I can.
I'm not a perfect parent, though, and I know sometimes I fail to keep my son from a situation that can elicit a tantrum. And when I do, I tend to go easier on him. After all, I know it’s not exactly his fault. I also do my best to simply let my kid express himself (so long as he’s not a danger to himself or anyone) and feel his feelings. But I know that if I keep my kid fed, well-rested, and supplied with a sufficient amount of toys and other beloved items, I can avoid a meltdown. When I asked other moms about their tips, they had plenty pearls of wisdom share, too.
“I try and make sure that I have snacks on me at all times. I can tell that he gets ‘hangry’ in the late afternoons before dinner. Also, he doesn’t really nap regularly anymore, so just trying to do calmer things when he’s tired like watch a movie, read a book, color, etc. And when all else fails, my phone with ABC mouse app or YouTube kids.”
“If we’re at a store, we will just walk outside with whomever is having a meltdown and they calm down before even getting to the door. At home, I rationalize with them and have them use their words instead of crying. These are if I can’t figure out what they want, and they’re hangry, and if my phone doesn’t suffice either.”
“Boob. She's only 2 years old, for other people's reference!”
"With my 6-year-old who likes math, I create a math problem with our surroundings so they refocus on something else. With my 5-year-old, I tell a butt or fart joke because that is what they are currently focused on. Actually, that generally works on both of them."
“I can't avoid the kid's meltdowns. All I can do is try not to let myself and my spouse meltdown along with him.”
“Make sure he gets a nap! The meltdowns only happen if he somehow skips daily nap.”
“Give them a choice whenever possible, before the meltdown. Something like, ‘Would you like the red cup or the blue cup?’”
“Time travel and not have children? Or perhaps time travel and skip over ages 15 months to 6.5 years? Failing that, lots of warnings before transitions and a willingness to compromise when possible. Sometimes compromise isn't always an option, either practically or in principle. Some people bristle at the idea of compromising with a child, but I think it's good for everyone involved in times when compromising doesn't compromise your plans or parental authority. This avoids a meltdown in the moment and lets your kid know you're a reasonable human, so that, in the future and when you give a ‘no,’ they (eventually) come to realize, ‘OK, this is a time when I can't argue my case.’”
“For 1 to 3 year olds, often they want their feelings acknowledged even more than they want what they're whining about. They want to be heard. I always try to start with an, ‘I know. You wanted to stay at the playground,’ or whatever the thing is, and let that sit for a few minutes before adding the, ‘but now we need to do this.’ Repeat their sentence verbatim, as a statement and not a question. It frequently stops the meltdown, or lessens its severity.”
“I've tried it all. In my case, the only way around the meltdown is through.”
“First, avoid having your own meltdown in reaction. Then, label the emotion behind why they are upset. This literally happened once in our house. ‘I know you are sad daddy won't give you his floss. It is ok to feel sad when we don't get things we want. When you are ready to stop being sad, let mommy know.’ I think the key mistake we make is to tell them to stop being upset when they don't get what they want. It's actually OK to be upset. Life is full of disappointments. What's important is how we and they learn to react to them.”
“Wine. Oh wait, you meant the kids meltdowns?”
“I avoid meltdowns with my little ones by not taking them in public when they’re tired or hungry and expecting them to power through. Additionally, if we are somewhere that we will need to be for a prolonged time, I will bring snacks and toys. I also try to stay calm when their anxiety is rising instead of meeting their frustration so that I can be the voice of reason instead of battling it out. These things usually work, but not every time and that’s OK!”
“I try not to set my daughter up for failure (i.e. a meltdown) by not doing all the things I would like but still doing some of them. If there is a birthday party that is during her nap time, then nine times out of 10 we don’t go because it’s not fair to her, us, or the other people at the party to have a hot mess express there. If we plan dinner or lunch out, we try to do it at a time that will allow us to actually enjoy it, like right after nap for dinner or an early lunch. If we do have a meltdown, I try to acknowledge her feelings and explain to her why we can’t do what she wants. If all else fails, I remove her from wherever we may be and we take a break or we head home.”
“With my older son, it was helpful to ‘prep’ him. The biggest meltdowns came from disappointments or unexpected situations, so the more info I could give him beforehand, the better.”
“Walk away and let them have their time. I left my daughter in one aisle of K-Mart one time and went into the next until she stopped. I figured no one was gonna kidnap a screaming bratty child. She stopped crying immediately.”
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.