This past week I took my two-year-old to Dunkin Donuts for his favorite treat, a chocolate frosted donut. We had spent the morning at the library with my sister-in-law and her son (who is also 2). Since they played nicely, we decided to reward them. Little did I know I was in for an epic meltdown.
Everything was going well until my son announced that he was ready to leave after he finished his donut. Since I wasn't finished, I decided to buy myself some time and give him my phone to play a game. When he couldn't get it to work he got very upset, and within a matter of minutes he was screaming, I was sweating, and we were leaving. On the drive home I was frustrated and felt defeated, but I knew that my son needed to leave because his behavior was unacceptable.
There are times I can prevent my son from having a meltdown, and then there are times when it's a lost cause. As a mom, I have to accept that there will be times where he has a meltdown, but I also do my best to work through the tough moments and teach him how to cope. Here are my top three strategies to prevent meltdowns at home, and my top three out of the house.
1. Help Identify Emotions & Work Together
If you notice that your child is becoming frustrated with whatever they're trying to do, acknowledge how they're feeling and try to redirect them or work through the task together. My son does well with this this once we've talked about why he's upset. Identifying his emotions for him has helped him use sentences like "I'm mad" or "I'm angry" on his own. Then, you can both decide if you want to try again or move onto something else.
2. Love & Choices
Children need lots of positive reinforcement. When my son gets upset and struggles to cope I'll go over and give him a big bear hug. He responds well to deep touch and pressure and it gives him a moment to reset. Then I'll ask him if he wants to do activity A or B. As a parent this is when you need to brainstorm a few ideas that your child will respond to. Maybe they need to get moving, or calm down with a seated activity. You can even have a "cheat list" of 5-10 ideas to choose from before asking your child.
3. Let them Work it Out Alone
There are times where you child needs to work on independence. If you sense that stepping away may help, wait it out for a moment or two—you may be surprised. When my son succeeds in self-calming, I make sure to praise him for it.
Other strategies include time-outs, deep breathing, and offering incentives.
Does climbing into a hutch count as time out? My son did that all by himself...one for the win?
Out of the House
1. Bag of Tricks
Distractions are key when you're running errands, eating at a restaurant, or traveling. I pack a bag with about 3-5 activities for my son. My favorites include: his favorite snack, a Ziploc bag of building blocks, travel games like tic-tac-toe, spy books, and play-doh. You can pull out your "tricks" as needed to keep your child happy during long periods of sitting.
2. Recognize Triggers & Determine When It's Time to Leave
As you come to learn what triggers your child's meltdowns, you can work with them. A common trigger is being repeatedly asked to do something they don't want to do. You can try to use the opportunity to teach them that negative behavior won't be rewarded. If your child is past the point of reasoning and being available to hear you, it's best to leave. Another common source of meltdowns is having too much sensory input.
3. Options to Try Before It Happens
I have found there are a few options to try before a meltdown ensues. The key as a parent is to stay calm as you work with your child. Try having your child take some deep breaths to reset. They may even respond to counting to 10. Try to lighten the mood and sing their favorite song, or get them thinking about something that makes them smile. For my son, it's playing catch with his cousin's dog.
I have found the book, The Whole Brain Child to be particularly helpful in dealing with meltdowns. It explains how the toddler brain works and has given me a renewed sense of symmpathy and understanding. I'll leave you with this... on the ride home from Dunkin Donuts I found myself deep breathing and counting. A mom can benefit too, right?
Do you have any tactics that you've found helpful in preventing a meltdown? Find more ways to deal with temper tantrums.