When Kids Meltdown

  by Erik Wolgemuth

Kids meltdown. They fall apart. They erupt. Lose control. Shred every sense of rational thinking. Things go nuclear.

Sometimes occasionally, sometimes frequently. And the reasons are many: being one year old, forfeiting naptime, hunger, selfishness, being two years old, siblings, finishing a meal, being three years old, sickness, bedtime, minor injuries, practicing personal hygiene, being four years old, not being allowed to eat copious amounts of candy. There are even times when meltdowns seem contagious, passed from one child to the next, to the next, and so on…and sometimes even passed to parents? (Alas, I’m thoroughly guilty on that count.)

What does a dadcraftsman do in an explosive situation like this? How do you (can you?) defuse things and return to normal levels of sane-ness? I’ve pondered this question a fair amount of late, in large part because I’ve learned that a volatile situation isn’t aided by my overflowing frustration. (Have I mentioned just how contagious meltdowns can be?) Thankfully I’ve had the chance to observe some dads who have navigated meltdowns in an exemplary manner.

In meltdowns of various intensities, I’ve recently watched dads…

  • Stay relaxed and calm. This is for you first before you dig into the situation with your kid. From my own failures, I know there’s a direct correlation between my frustration levels and my child’s meltdown. Staying calm can be as simple as reminding yourself of that need over and over. Or maybe look for the humor in what’s transpiring.
  • Change the location. Sometimes you need to find a different spot for your kiddo to begin the cool down process. Melting down outside with friends? Go inside for a break. Tantrums happening in the house with the fam? Maybe a walk around the block. A change of venue can often work to begin to change the mood.
  • Change the subject matter. Hysterics happening over not eating ice cream at 6:30am? Sometimes it’s best not to try to reason. Odds are you’re better off not diagramming the finer points of the food pyramid and instead simply getting that little brain to shift to a different topic. However, if the meltdown was significant enough, changing the subject doesn’t mean you don’t go back and resolve, correct, and instruct. You can (and should) come back to that ice cream pre-breakfast snack discussion later.
  • Substitute. Approaching your breaking point? Or maybe sensing your wife is nearing hers? Don’t be afraid to make a personnel change (and don’t be afraid to utilize a grandparent, trusted neighbor, friend, etc). You’re out, she’s in (or vice versa). There’s no shame in this honest admission. Far better to recognize where you’re at and/or where you’re heading than to go ahead and ratchet up the intensity of the situation.

Though I sometimes find the meltdown comical – wait, did insanity just break out because I said there needs to be one more bite of pizza before being excused?!? – more often than not, those moments are a struggle and I’m grateful for what I’ve learned from those around me.

Postcript: Don’t forget that meltdowns are a great way to remind your child of what “I’m Sorry” needs to mean…not to mention acknowledging what to do when you fall short.