Today, I’m going to teach you how you can handle and prevent your child’s meltdowns and tantrums with confidence. Most of you are probably familiar with brain research, with the idea of the left and right side of the brain. The left side is more logical and critical thinking, and the right side is more creative. But did you know that there is also an upstairs and a downstairs to your brain? There are actually two different types of meltdowns that your children have, and I cannot wait to share them with you. So let’s jump right in.
The Difference Between Upstairs vs. Downstairs Brain
Children experience two different types of tantrums: there’s an upstairs brain tantrum and there’s a downstairs brain tantrum. The lower part of the brain deals with primitive functions, like talking, breathing, blinking, fight or flight impulses, and emotions like anger and fear. This area is fully developed at birth, and all of the basic necessities get taken care of in this section of the brain. The upstairs part of the brain is more evolved, and this is where higher level processes such as thinking, imagining, planning and self-control exist. When a child’s upstairs brain is working well, he/she can regulate their emotions and can think before taking action. This area of the brain doesn’t fully mature until a person reaches their mid-twenties.
Kids have meltdowns for a variety of reasons. They might be hungry, tired, need more attention or power, or they feel mistreated and unheard. A downstairs tantrum is likely triggered by hunger or lack of sleep, and these meltdowns are uncontrollable. Even if you gave your child exactly what they were asking for, it wouldn’t matter because the meltdown would still continue since something else going on. On the other hand, if you gave in to that meltdown and gave the child exactly what they wanted and the tantrum stopped, then you can guarantee that an upstairs brain tantrum just occurred as they were methodically trying to manipulate you.
Strategies to Prevent Meltdowns
I want you to keep those two tantrums in mind, because depending on which tantrum they’re having will require a different response. I’m going to give you some strategies that you can use to help your children recognize their feelings and work through those feelings in order to prevent meltdowns before they happen. We will also talk about how to handle them when they actually do happen.
1) Give your Children Regular Meals and Snacks
Be super proactive about giving your children regular meals and snacks as this is a common trigger for most meltdowns.
2) Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule for Your Children
This is crucial because sleep helps to re-energize and repair the body. If they’re not getting adequate sleep, it can absolutely affect their behavior, their emotions, and how they handle conflict.
3) Find an Alternative to Saying No
Saying ‘no’ to something can actually trigger a meltdown. Consider simply avoiding saying ‘no’ and instead try alternative phrases like ‘let me think about that’ or ‘now is not the best time, but let’s plan on that for a specific time that’s appropriate’ and follow through with that. You could say something like ‘please ask me again tomorrow’ or ‘that doesn’t work for me, but let’s come up with a compromise’. In a child’s eyes, this will almost always sound better than ‘no’.
4) Get Feedback from Your Children
When you see that they are on the verge of a potential meltdown, ask yourself what is the cause for their meltdown and why are they being resistant. Is it maybe the way that you phrased it? Think about it from their perspective and determine if this is an ongoing issue that you’re constantly fighting about. If so, you might need to put some boundaries into place and implement some family rules and expectations, so that your children understand what the rules are.
5) Approach the Situation Differently
Think about how can you approach this situation differently and making it fun. Try incorporating a game of sorts with your children to try and diffuse the situation instead of getting into a power struggle about it.
6) Plan Ahead
I encourage you to plan ahead and schedule in time for things to go wrong. I know as a mom you always feel like you’re rushing, and it always feels like things happen at the very last second. We don’t really plan or leave margin in our schedule to actually have accidents happen. If you plan ahead and schedule in extra time, you will feel less agitated.
Strategies for Handling Existing Meltdowns
So, now that you have a better handle on how to prevent meltdowns, let’s chat about how you can actually handle them. I want you to think about this, what kind of mom do you want to be when things get hard? Do you want to be the kind of mom that flies off the handle, who’s always angry and has a short temper? Or do you want to be the kind of mom who takes it slow and enjoys the slower pace of life? A mom who allows your children to make mistakes and learn from them?
1) Take your Emotion Out of It
The very first thing that I want you to do in the midst of a meltdown is to take your emotion out of it, ignore the inconvenience, look past the disrespect and put yourself in their shoes. Get a sense for how they’re feeling and why it feels like it’s the end of the world to them.
Set the tone for your child, keep a calm and positive disposition and lead with love. Avoid snarky or demeaning comments as they will not help the situation. When your children are being disrespectful in the moment, it’s okay to tell them that what they have said or done really hurts your feelings. I think it’s so important for us to have this dialogue with our children and let them know they’re not being respectful, and they’re emotions are not regulated.
2) Create a Safe Space
I also think it’s a really amazing idea to incorporate a safe place in your home for each of your children and have them help you with this. This could be somewhere where you set up a beanbag chair or a little play tent somewhere that they can go when they’re feeling dysregulated. When they feel overwhelmed and angry, they can retreat to this safe place where they can go to calm down. Let them help you to decide what items to put inside that calm down space, like their favorite books or coloring book and crayons.
3) Keep Note of what Triggers these Meltdowns
Start keeping mental and physical notes of what exactly triggers your child’s meltdowns. Did they wake up early from their nap? Do they wake up early for the day? Did they skip a snack? Did they have some type of food? Every time a meltdown happens, document it so that you can start to identify and recognize these patterns and help to prevent future meltdowns. It’s really important as their mom to recognize those patterns for them as they are not equipped to recognize these patterns for themselves.
Things You can Say or Do During a Meltdown
Try to empathize and show compassion to your child by saying things like, “I know it’s really hard when you don’t get your way, you really wish that you could ____ (blank).” Try to redirect their attention by giving them time to play or connecting with them by cracking a joke to make them laugh. Boys process their feelings with aggression and physical activity, so get them running, play chase with them, and when you catch them say, “I got you! I love you!” Getting girls to do physical activity works too; the key is to shift your child’s attention onto something else.
I want you to also look into the future with your kids by using when-then. If your child wants something but they’re not done with what you’ve asked them to do, you could say, “When you are done cleaning up your room, then we’ll go outside to the park.”
Now, when all is calm after the meltdown, circle back and teach the lesson. Keep it short and keep it sweet, and let them know what it is that you’re trying to teach them. I also want to encourage reconciliation, so if you were in a bad mood or maybe they put you in a bad mood and you said something that you didn’t mean, apologize. Model that skill and teach them how to also apologize. You are teaching them the importance of apologizing and how reconciliation helps strengthen relationships.
I hope that you have learned a few things from today’s post. Once you take the time to take care of your children’s needs and prevent those meltdowns, you’re going to see a big shift in your family dynamic and the way that you interact with your children. I would love for you to spread the word and share this with other mamas, share it on Instagram and tag me @thepurposegathering, so that they can learn how to prevent and handle meltdowns.
If you feel like you need more guidance and maybe you’re having repetitive meltdowns and arguments with your children, contact me to book a discovery call at bit.ly/tpgchat. Remember, you are not alone, and I am here to support you.
As always mama, I am here rooting for you and you are not alone on this journey.