Preventing meltdowns and tantrums is better than dealing with them

20121112-210944.jpg

Want to learn a big secret about how to prevent tantrums and other stressful situations with your kids? Shhh, I have learned about it over a year ago, and I stopped complaining about my kids. They don’t have meltdowns that I didn’t see coming, and even when they do, I know how to fix them quickly and without resorting to physical violence. And everyone is happy at the end of the day. Isn’t THAT what counts in a loving family? Thanks to Dr. Laura Markham of AhaParenting.com for writing Preventive Maintenance to Keep Your Child Out of the Breakdown Lane.

“What happens to your car if you don’t fill it with gas, change the oil, and give it a regular tune up? It ends up in the breakdown lane. Life with children isn’t so different. Unfortunately, parents aren’t given a preventive maintenance plan for their children. But if you don’t refill your child’s love tank, roughhouse with him daily so he gets some good giggling in, and give him regular one-on-one time, you can count on more breakdown time. Especially if there’s a relatively new baby in the family.

Unfortunately, once your car is in the breakdown lane, your options are limited. Similarly, there are only so many things you can do once your two year old is in meltdown mode when you’re trying to buckle him into his carseat, or your twelve year old is lying to you about drinking with his friends. The trick is to prevent the breakdown to begin with.

By the time you’re having a problem with your child, it’s hard to see how you could have prevented it. And yes, many kids have issues that present real challenges for parents. But if you’re having an ongoing problem with your child, it’s worth asking what kinds of preventive maintenance might keep you from ending up in the breakdown lane so often. And if you have more than one child, you certainly can’t always be available for meltdowns when your child “blows.” That means that your primary parenting strategy has to be prevention.

Unfortunately, once your car is in the breakdown lane, your options are limited. Similarly, there are only so many things you can do once your two year old is in meltdown mode when you’re trying to buckle him into his carseat, or your twelve year old is lying to you about drinking with his friends. The trick is to prevent the breakdown to begin with.

By the time you’re having a problem with your child, it’s hard to see how you could have prevented it. And yes, many kids have issues that present real challenges for parents. But if you’re having an ongoing problem with your child, it’s worth asking what kinds of preventive maintenance might keep you from ending up in the breakdown lane so often. And if you have more than one child, you certainly can’t always be available for meltdowns when your child “blows.” That means that your primary parenting strategy has to be prevention.

Here’s your 5-step preventive maintenance plan.

1. Make Empathy your go-to way of relating to your child. Empathy strengthens your relationship with your child and helps her feel understood. That makes her WANT to cooperate, and it helps you understand her better. It means she feels safer to feel her emotions as they happen, instead of stuffing them in her emotional backpack where they’ll burst out uncontrolled at a later time. Empathy is especially important when you’re setting limits. Of course your child needs guidance, but she can’t accept the guidance if the relationship isn’t there to support it. Ninety percent of your interactions with your child should be about connecting, so she can accept the 10 percent that are about correcting.

2. Daily Roughhousing. Children build up anxiety (mild fear) all day long, and they need a way to let it out. Luckily, nature has designed humans with a great way to vent anxiety: giggling. Laughter really is the best medicine, and the best way to get your child laughing is physical games that very mildly provoke a fear response, such as roughhousing. Roughhousing also releases bonding hormones and helps you vent your own aggression, so if you’re feeling irritable at your twelve year old, start a pillow fight!

3. Special Time. Life has a way of disconnecting us. Spending one-on-one time with each child daily is your most important tool to build trust, stay connected and help your child express his emotions. Most parents tell me that once they start daily Special Time, their problems with their child diminish dramatically, whether the problem is aggression between siblings, tantrums, or defiance.

4. Use Routines. You don’t have to be a slave to the schedule, but regular routines minimize your job as head cop, reduce power struggles and increase your child’s sense of safety.

5. Scheduled meltdowns. What’s a scheduled meltdown? It’s the same meltdown your child would have had at the playground or supermarket, except you give him a chance to have it at home, at your convenience! Basically, you notice when your child is cranky, aggressive, or simply seems unhappy. Instead of sighing and hoping your kid will snap out of it, you see these early warning signals like red lights on the dashboard, and do some scheduled maintenance. First, acknowledge any irritation you have at your child, and shift yourself to a more empathic frame of mind, so you can be compassionate.

Your goal is to help your child express what’s going on. Most kids can’t articulate it, of course, but if you help him, he can show you. How? Set a kind limit about whatever he’s doing: “Sweetie, you’re yelling, and that hurts my ears. Can you tell me what you want in an inside voice?” If he gets angry, ratchet up your empathy a notch: “Oh, Sweetie, I see you’re upset…I’m sorry this is so hard.” Behind his anger there are tears and fears, and your goal is to help him feel safe enough to go behind the anger to show you his hurts. If you can stay compassionate enough (which is the challenge for most parents), he’ll cry. (That’s what’s therapeutic, not the anger.) After he’s gotten those upsets off his chest, he’ll be back to his best self. And since you’ve gotten the meltdown out of the way at a time when you can really listen, you’ve just dodged the tantrum that would have happened next time you try to buckle him into his carseat.

Children raised with empathy, roughhousing, special time, routines and scheduled meltdowns are better able to regulate their emotions, and therefore their behavior. So you can spend more time laughing and connecting, and less time in the breakdown lane.”

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Preventing meltdowns and tantrums is better than dealing with them

  1. You are so right. When my foster daughter who is deaf, (eventually to become my adopted daughter,) first came to live with us, I reacted to her ADHD by running around saying No! No! Don’t do that! Don’t climb “up” the “down” escalator. Don’t try cutting the dog’s hair! Don’t run out into the street in front of cars. After a week or so of this, we were both exhausted, and I saw her “signing” to her teacher that she did not like her new mom because all I did was yell and say NO. It was TRUE. Right then and there I changed. All of those dangerous things she did she did because she did not know any better. So I made special times for us to go to the mall, and explained what behavior was appropriate. She gradually became more accustomed to me because I was no longer the mom who always says no!

    • Thank you for being so tuned in to your daughter’s needs. Especially since she can not communicate with you in the way other kids can. It always inspires me to meet parents who are not afraid to learn new ways of raising their children, and who put their children’s needs above their old habits.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s