preventing meltdowns in toddlers and babies

It’s that time of year again, where so many of us are entertaining visitors or traveling to see family and friends, and with all of this comes a lot of stress. There are so many ways our kids can get triggered into meltdowns during the holidays, so I always find it’s best to strategize ahead of time. I know what my daughter’s triggers are, so I take the time beforehand to help prepare for them to keep her in a more balanced, regulated state of mind. Here are some possible triggers that either my daughter has or my friends have discussed with me about their children and what we’ve done to try to prevent possible meltdowns.

 AIRPLANE TRAVEL

That’s a big one, and it's just all too common for kids to get upset.  I’m sure you’ve seen those glaring eyes of other passengers when they see you boarding with a baby and/or multiple kids. First off, just don’t look at them. I have to admit, my daughter was always a pretty amazing traveler (and still is at age 10) but part of me is still waiting for the other shoe to drop. But here are some things I’ve done in the past or have heard about.

  •  Nighttime Travel - I always did this because my daughter would end up sleeping most of the flight and therefore less chance of getting upset about something. If you know your child won’t sleep, then definitely travel during the day!
  •  Take off and Landing - My pediatrician told me with a nursing or bottle feeding baby, don’t start nursing or bottle feeding until right when the plane starts taking off. You want your baby to be hungry and then eating right as the plane takes off, and do this again when the plane lands. With your baby suckling and swallowing, it helps prevent his/her ears from plugging up and causing pain and therefore meltdowns.
  • Comfort Items - pacifiers, a baby sling, swaddle blankets – bring anything that comforts and regulates your baby. And if your baby has a meltdown, try not to get upset. It’s bound to happen. Just do the best you can and breath.
  • Cool Idea - I read that one family passed out notes with some chewing gum as a gift to all the passengers saying that they were traveling with their baby for the first time and had no idea how it would go so they just wanted to let everyone know and give them each a gift. I thought that was a pretty cool idea!
  • Lots of Snacks with Protein - For toddlers and bigger kids, have lots of snacks and a good variety. Even slip in some special ones you don’t usually let them eat. But don’t make it a bag full of sugary snacks. If you’re going to give them anything surgery, make sure they get protein with it as well. Too many sugar foods will first get them hyper and then they will crash. Voila – perfect recipe for a meltdown. Protein will keep their blood level balanced and prevent sugar crashes. Cheese sticks, snacks with peanut butter, turkey, ham or cheese sandwich, trail mix with nuts, milk all have protein. So protein is a must!
  • Keep them Chewing - Keep gum on hand for kids to help keep their ears from popping. Toddler’s sippy cups are good for this too.
  • The Every Hour Gift Game – go to Target or the dollar store and get some cheap little toys – then every hour give your little one a new little gift. My daughter loves this! And it kept her off the screen!
  • Entertainment - I have succumbed to my ipad to keep my daughter entertained on a long plane ride (it’s best they be over 2 years old for lots of screen time) and I’ve finally just accepted that, however I bring coloring materials, card games, books and a few of her other favorite toys as well just to make sure she takes screen time breaks.
  • Extra Clothes - I always keep a pair of extra clothes in my carryon for her (even now at 10) and pjs if we are flying late. We take her blanket and pillow as well and she loves to snuggle up. I also keep a few of our toiletries and necessities in my carryon, as well as an extra set of clothing for me. If you’ve ever experienced having your luggage lost, well, it’s not fun. Have some emergency supplies for you both in you carryon!

CHANGE OF ROUTINE

This is a big one for us. My daughter is very sensitive to any routine change and after a few days of having zero routine, she becomes very susceptible to a melt down. So here’s what I do:

  • A Calendar – I bring a calendar and we write in it all the things we are going to do. That way she sees the plan and knows what’s happening, even if it’s different from our normal routine. And if we have free time that’s not planned, I put that in there too. It’s amazing how much this helps her stay regulated.
  • Familiar Food – although she likes a wide variety of foods, she doesn’t like to be eating lots of foods that she’s not used to for very long. So I always make sure to find out whether there will be a place for me to shop and get some foods she likes to regularly eat. If not, I bring them. I make sure I can make some simple sandwiches I know she likes, some fruit and veggies, and some snacks she likes. With several familiar foods throughout the day, she’s fine eating things she’s not used to. Therefore she doesn’t start going hungry, she feels a sense of familiarity eating foods she’s used to, and therefore she’s more apt to stay regulated and not meltdown.
  • Getting Enough Sleep – you may be going to a new time zone, or you may have people coming to stay with you, both which can disrupt sleep. When people come stay with us, I still try to get my daughter to sleep at her regular time. Or, if I know we will have a few late nights, we pace it to make sure she’s getting enough sleep most of the time. She and I will figure out maybe two nights that will be late and then two regular night sleeps after that. Sleep deprivation is a major trigger, so I really try to keep her as well rested as possible.
  • Time Zone Changes - Different time zones are tricky.   I always think it’s best to keep my daughter on her normal time zone when we travel, but sometimes she just starts naturally changing over if we are there long enough. In that case, three days before we are leaving, I’ll have her start to go to bed earlier or later (depending on the time zone change) so she can prepare for going home.

SO MUCH EXCITEMENT

So much fun and excitement can definitely be a trigger for a meltdown. It’s happened to my daughter before. Try to be empathetic. If your schedule is going to be jam packed with activities that could get your little one over tired or over excited it's time to strategize. 

  • Take little breaks – My daughter sometimes needs to be taken away from all the excitement to just chill and let her nervous system calm down. I think it can be helpful for any child.
  • Plan Wisely – try not to plan things back to back if possible. Kids are slow as we know, they like to take their time, and if they feel you are stressed trying to get everywhere on time, they will get stressed too. Also, make sure there’s time just to sit and freeplay. Their freeplay is actually one of the ways they process their emotions and their experiences, so make sure they get enough of it every day because this is actually helping them to self regulate.

KNOW THE WARNING SIGNS

It's good to be able to recognize warning signals of an impending meltdown.  If you can catch it before it happens, you can take some action like giving them a  break, having a healthy snack, hold them to feel safe, check in with them, cut the activity short, give them a blanket or toy that comforts them, these are just a few suggestions.   Some of our warning signals have been:

  • Rubbing Eyes
  • Turning her head away from noise or put hands on her ears
  • Starting to seem easily agitated
  • Haven't eaten for a while
  • Got a poor nights sleep
  • Starting to play a little rougher
  • Getting whiny
  • Hanging on me more

If you have specific issues you are worried about, it’s always best to speak with your pediatrician or nurse to get support. In my next article I’m going to start sharing some ways I’ve been learning to deal with meltdowns. I’m looking at my daughter’s meltdowns in a new way, and using some new strategies.   So stay tuned!

 

 

 

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99 comments

  • Danielle : December 06, 2018

    I’ve always had great travelers but my 3 year old is a new breed 😂 I’ll definitely be implementing some of these into our vacations! Thanks for the tips and chance!

  • Onyinye Elochukwu: December 04, 2018

    This is great advice for first time travelers. Lucky for us my son was almost 4 years old the first time we flew so he was excited.

  • Lenka : December 04, 2018

    Great tips! We always pack extra clothes, toys and books for entertainment and snacks! But traveling with toddler is not easy, requires lots of deep breaths :)))

  • Lori Byrd: December 04, 2018

    They need lots of activities to keep them busy.

  • Ashley Campbell: December 04, 2018

    I love all of these tips! The change of routine can definitely cause some meltdowns in my house and sleep and breaks are an absolute must!

  • Sandra C.: December 04, 2018

    All such helpful tips! We will be traveling by car this Christmas about 30 hours to MEX with a 3 year old and a 2 month old! I just hope everything goes good!

  • Gladys: December 04, 2018

    Our kids are older now so travel is a bit easier. But when they were younger, I traveled with snacks, books, coloring sheets, crayons and lollipops. Definitely came in handy!

  • Clarissa: December 04, 2018

    Oh the meltdowns! What has helped SO MUCH are use of transition songs or countdowns. My oldest is 2 and my youngest is 7 months, so sometimes moving from one task to the next is like moving a herd over Mt. McKinley. But I notice when I use adverbs (before, next, after, then, etc.) or use transition songs or rhymes, it decreases the intensity of the meltdown. Using my learned classroom techniques from 10 years of teaching has helped tremendously!

  • Michelle : December 04, 2018

    My 5 yr old had a huge meltdown in a store yesterday because i told him to chose between 2 toys and he couldn’t decide then through a fit about the one he chose. It continued in the car and at home. I realized I had pushed him to his limits (he was hungry and tired, he’s been sick this week) but also in the past I’ve been too lenient about letting him get something when we go places, and now he expects it. Luckily he rarely has these meltdowns. I’ve never flown with him but definitely think tons of activities would keep him busy!!

  • Maria Studtmann : November 30, 2018

    I love everything about the airplane I am from Mexico and I travel there once in a while with my 2 year old and soon a newborn, so thank you very much for all the tips. I definitely see the change on toddlers attitude when he doesn’t get his normal routine.

  • Keri Justice : November 30, 2018

    My child has meltdowns all the time anyway. Then when you add all the extra holiday stimuli, it just intensifies. Very relatable.

  • Jill: November 30, 2018

    I’m so glad I read this with travel plans to Canada for Christmas! We will be flying with a 16 month old and can use all the advice possible. I will definitely plan snacks with protein and not just sugar! Love that.

  • Rania R. : November 29, 2018

    I wish I read this article in early November when I took my baby with me on a flight to Texas. I should have taken her more things for entertainment. I had only taken her a cabbage patch doll to play with and the whole 4 hours from New York to Texas she was crying. I love your article and thank you so much for the wonderful tips.

  • Thomasina Archer: November 29, 2018

    I can definitely relate!! Last year we flew from Washington to Texas with 4 kids! It actually went really well. Our youngest was 6 weeks old at the time and I was so nervous about all that could go wrong, but the trip went way better than I imagined. We brought tablets for the kids on the plane. I babywore my daughter basically the entire time. She slept through everything! We choose flights with no layovers that weren’t super early or late at night and that helped with the kids’ schedules. We also got to the airport extra early so we weren’t stressed about rushing. We ate at the airport and found the play area to get all of their energy out, which is my best advice!

  • Janet OBrien: November 29, 2018

    I can relate to 90% of it. Thanks for all the tips.

  • Rachel Figueroa: November 29, 2018

    While our little one is still a baby, a lot of these warning signs relate to her when she’s overwhelmed. She does really well and goes with the flow so I usually have to keep an eye for when she needs a little down time to help her recharge so she doesn’t end up getting upset. Lots of good tips here!

  • Esther Kruse: November 29, 2018

    Oops! I left my comment on the Instagram post instead of on here! Guess I’ll just do it again! Mom brain 🤦🏻‍♀️ I loved the part about taking breaks. We’ve been visiting my parents in Seattle and we are always on the go because there are always people to see and things to do. But I love what you say about having some schedule consistency and slowing down. Being aware of our baby’s need is really half the battle!!

  • Erica Munzinger: November 29, 2018

    I’m 8 months pregnant and have a 2 1/2 year old. There is plenty of change coming that I’ve already started to see more meltdown taking place. All my family will all be coming into town for the holidays as well since my due date is January 2nd. These tips will all be great when there is so much excitement and change taking place all at once. But he will have plenty of cousins to play with at least. Thank you for the tips. They will come in handy.

  • Chelsea: November 29, 2018

    This post is super helpful! First time mom gearing up for our first holiday session!

  • Linda: November 29, 2018

    I always prepare myself when my son rubs his eyes. I know a tantrum is on the way unless I distract him.

  • Marci : November 29, 2018

    I can relate. Thanks for the tips

  • Sandra Watts: November 29, 2018

    I totally relate! What a good post. Great tips too!

  • Salena Schneider: November 29, 2018

    I have a 6-year-old son, a (almost) 2- year-old daughter, and a 4-month-old daughter. We never really travel by plane or very long distances. However, they both have different triggers depending on the situation and how long we are away from home. I pack snacks, change of clothes (my son likes his comfy pants after a long day in his jeans. He is VERY particular about his clothes), toys, tablet to watch cartoons, and maybe a coloring book. Planning ahead is so important because my kids get restless and bored very quickly. Each child is different and things can get hectic very quickly especially if everyone is cranky, hungry, or tired. This is such a cool post and I enjoyed your ideas. Thanks for sharing!💜

  • Karen: November 29, 2018

    I have three children and have traveled internationally many times to visit my in-laws in Egypt. These ideas and tips are among many that I have tried in order to help them remain calm during the flights and those dreaded layovers. Carrying all of the necessary items along with the extras to help occupy them gets overwhelming. Beautiful bags like the Newlie help organize all those extras and cut down on the time spent rumaging through your bag to find a “binky” to pacify a mean tempered baby.

  • Sarah Molitor : November 29, 2018

    I think you are totally right on the breathing thing. Whenever my baby is stressed (which isn’t often) it’s usually because I am stressed and they can sense that! So I try to stay calm even if things aren’t going great to try to set the tone for my kiddos and babe!!

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