One problem I get asked a lot about is behaviour, especially ‘meltdowns’… I’ve come across too many parents who live constantly on edge in anticipation of the next one, especially those whose children are highly reactive, unpredictable, or may just be struggling with a particular stressor at that time.
Most parents I work really don’t want to punish but, because kids in outburst or meltdown mode; even very small children; can be so volatile and challenging, many still often fall back on bribes and sanctions to prevent these kinds of behaviours from escalating.
Threats and the like might be a quick-win at the time, but we all know that, as a long-term strategy, they don’t work.
In fact they frequently they fail completely, or have the opposite effect because they add to, rather than ‘manage’, the child’s distress.
But avoiding the dreaded meltdown aside, very few of those ‘techniques’ do much to help your child’s in the vortex of a meltdown anyway…
So how do we manage the situation?
This is not always as easy as it sounds because an OTT child can very quickly escalate into an OTT parent.
Of course, we need to ensure our kids stay physically safe, which they’re not always capable of doing for themselves in this state, but; counter-intuitive as it may feel; one of the key bits of guidance I give is to wait, and not to try to deal with the source of the behaviour for a while.
Because, instinctive as it is to rationalise, to tell our kids not to worry or that they’re being OTT (even though they are), for as long as they’re hijacked by big emotions, we might as well be talking in a different language.
Ridiculous as it may be to our grown-up thinking, a meltdown is actually super-stressful for our kids.
Consequently, a surge of stressor hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, charge through their bodies and brains. This has two major implications on what should ideally happen next.
And that’s NOT ‘time-out’!
Time-outs fail on two counts;
1) Stressor-hormones freeze up the thinking area of your child’s brain. Children can’t reflect or ‘think about what they’ve done’, while they’re emotionally charged. Nobody can.
Forget explaining, problem-solving or perspective taking. It ain’t happening (yet!)
2) Stressor-hormones are also designed to be used by the body, as part of the fight/flight response. While ‘naughty steps’ and the like thankfully seem to be on their way out, keeping children immobile or otherwise ‘contained’ just keeps that adrenaline sloshing around.
This, thus the fight/flight response stays wide awake! A child might appear calmer on the exterior, but their brains are still far from regulated.
So, as long as your child is safe, get them using their bodies to flush that adrenaline out. That’s how they can get back to ‘thinking brain’ state, and only then can you realistically move forward.
Until the horrible episode is over, just do what you can to remain as in control of yourself as possible, assure your child’s physical and emotional safety, and then WAIT.
It might take 24 hours or more for the hormone levels in your child’s brain to come back down to baseline, at which point, revisiting it can feel like re-opening a wound, and the fear of your kid kicking off again is real! (If they do, their adrenaline is probably still too high)
Don’t be ruled by that fear.
Yes, approach with caution… Avoid intensity; keep eye-contact low and personal space high. Raise the topic while engaged in a casual activity, like cooking or driving…
But don’t sweep it under the carpet and hope it goes away by itself. Because it won’t!
The art of self-control comes from within, not from being controlled, so our kids need our help to develop the self-awareness to understand and manage their behaviours themselves, not to ‘be managed’.
Until then, know why it’s not just ok, not essential, to wait until the storm has passed…
Need to know how to work with, not against, your child’s developing brain? Get our FREE pdf “5 Daily Ways For Emotionally Healthy Brains” below.