I’m sure you can relate to the stress of when your child melts down. Sometimes it seems like it’s come out of nowhere and can ramp up from 0-100 in 10 seconds. It can get overwhelming to both your child and yourself making it difficult to stay calm. Every child’s temperament is different, so some kids have much stronger or more frequent meltdowns then others, but with that said, a melt down is a melt down and they can be really hard to navigate, especially if you are already feeling stressed, tired or overwhelmed.

 

One thing that really helped me was to learn a little about how the brain works, so I’m going to share that with you and tell you why it helps. The downstairs part of the brain is the part that is pretty developed when a child is born. This is where your emotions – fear, sadness, anxiety, love and other emotions live.   The upstairs brain is much less developed at birth. This is where we do our problem solving, rational thinking, considering consequences, looking at various perspectives, self regulation and other executive functioning.

 

The downstairs brain is also where your instincts to protect yourself live. When you sense some kind of threat or danger, your adrenalin can ramp up, and you fight, run away or shut down and freeze.   So as you can see, there is a lot of primitive, emotional stuff happening in the downstairs brain.

 

Now why would this knowledge help in dealing with a meltdown? Well, when a child is melting down, they are emotional; therefore they are activating their downstairs brain. When a child is highly emotional, their downstairs brain basically hijacks their upstairs brain therefore making it incredibly difficult for them to calm themselves down or think rationally. To make things worse, if we start getting upset or try to problem solve or rationalize with them when they’re in this downstairs brain emotional state, we’re going to pretty much get no where, and can even escalate the meltdown. So what do you do?

 

What I learned is that the first thing you need to do when your child is in this highly emotional state, is to co-regulate with them. Co-regulation is when your child feeds off your energy or the environment around you. What that means is we do our best to stay calm and empathetic (and yes, I know sometimes this seems so difficult), and connect with our child so they feel safe. I often will hold my daughter or put my hand on her arm or back if she lets me to help ground her. I pay attention to my breathing and make sure it’s nice and calm. I talk in a soothing voice and validate her feelings. “I can see you’re really upset right now because you have to stop playing.” “You seem really disappointed that you didn’t get the toy you wanted.” By empathizing with her and acknowledging her feelings and why she might be feeling that way, I’m teaching her self awareness and to recognize how’s she’s feeling and why. By staying calm and regulated myself, I’m actually helping her to self regulate and calm herself down through my example. This is called co-regulation.  The one thing I’m not doing right away is start problem solving. This can only happen in a productive way when our child has calmed down, and their downstairs brain is no longer in control of their upstairs brain. Once they are calm, then we can start talking to them about what happened, and they will be more receptive because they can start accessing their upstairs brain.

 

I highly recommend two books that talk all about this: The Whole Brain Child and The Yes Brain Child by Dr. Tina Payne Bryson and Dr. Daniel J. Siegel. They go into much more detail. The Whole Brain Child really gets deeper into all of this, and in the book, The Yes Brain Child, they teach you strategies to help your child to be more resilient and have more grit, two qualities which I think are so important.

 

It is in no way easy to deal with meltdowns, and we are never going to be perfect all the time and apply every strategy we ever learn in every situation. We are human and can just do the best that we can. And remember, if you lose your patients or forget to stay calm, you can always revisit the situation later when both of you are are more grounded, and acknowledge that you got upset too. While you’re both calm, you can then talk more about what happened in a positive, constructive way.

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46 comments

  • Stefanie Durich Beck: December 12, 2018

    I love this! Thank you for sharing this great information! ❤️

  • Latanya: December 12, 2018

    This blog post really helped to bring awareness to my approach and how I can help my children better. Thanks for the info.

  • Rachel : December 12, 2018

    I just try to be in the moment with them. Acknowledge their feelings and wait it out.

  • Thomasina archer: December 12, 2018

    I try to remember that they are having a hard time and try to help them sort their emotions. It’s frustrating for everyone sometimes.

  • Candace Galan: December 12, 2018

    Thanks for this post! Tantrums can be so hard and knowing what to do can be challenging.

  • Onyinye Elochukwu: December 12, 2018

    I have the The Yes Brain Child. It was recommended by my sister in law and I love it.

  • Brianna : December 09, 2018

    I think paying attention to your own breathing and talking to your child in a validating manner so so important! It’s so easy to want to get frustrated and upset when meltdowns are occurring regularly. Those few extra moments it takes to breathe deeply and collect yourself are so important, I agree. And I never want my children to feel scared of me just bc I had a moment of weakness and lost my cool. Thank you for this! ❤️

  • laurie chibnik: December 09, 2018

    Great info! Very helpful.

  • icefairy: December 09, 2018

    Thank you for the book recommendations! I often wish I understood my kids better.

  • Kalli Marie: December 09, 2018

    I loved reading this, thank you for sharing! As parents, it is so easy to get caught up in how we’d like to see our children behave, versus how they are actually capable of behaving. Their meltdowns become much easier to understand when we make an effort to learn and comprehend the biological reasoning behind them.

  • Bo: December 09, 2018

    My daughter melts down when she’s tired. I usually wait out her melt down by staying nearby but not interacting with her and then when she calms down, I give her a big hug and talk it out with her.

  • Kellie: December 09, 2018

    Thanks for this article! I can relate to this so much! One thing I have learned that helps is for me to stay calm. If I get all worked up, it doesn’t help the situation at all. If they see me calm, they calm down easier.

  • Jessica: December 09, 2018

    Giving him his space and freedom to get out his emotions works for us. If I get too close he freaks out so I let him have his 3 min and then I lay down the law or enjoy his calmer demeanor!

  • Karina Camacho: December 09, 2018

    Such a helpful post. I have a very strong tempered 2 year old I get looks everywhere I go anytime someone has something to say I just say oh she’s a future CEO she’s gonna have the drive and attitude .

  • Sharon: December 08, 2018

    Very helpful article here. I sent it to a friend with a 2 year old who has just started this meltdown behavior, usually with no discernable reason. Thanks!

  • Andrea: December 08, 2018

    I first talk to my son in a calming voice to calm him down. Once he’s calm, he’s ready to listen. We talk him through what happened and explain the situation. It helps!

  • kathy Persons: December 08, 2018

    ONly have had one serious meltdown (so far) Just removed her from the situation remained called, talked softly and held her

  • Carla lim: December 08, 2018

    I think everyone can relate when it comes to child meltdowns. It comes with the territory of being a parent and it differes from everyone. I try to talk to my child in a calm manner and make sure I look him in the eyes to make him feel that yes, I love him but I have the authority that he should learn to respect. Its hard but we deal with it all the time

  • Danielle Banks: December 08, 2018

    I can absolutely relate, my daughter is 18 months and I have 3 month old twins. As of late she will act out when I’m taking care of them and of course my initial reaction is to yell because I’m holding one or both babies. She then goes a bit more crazy and starts throwing things or throwing herself on the floor. If I do my best to talk slowly and in a quiet manner she’ll normally look at me and stop what she’s doing without the giant meltdown.

  • Debra DuBois: December 08, 2018

    I say to myself be calm and speak in a low tone and we discuss what the problem he or she is having and we work through it together and go on with the rest of or daily journeys.

  • Marissa Miles: December 08, 2018

    Definitely can relate. My 3 year old mainly has meltdowns with clean up time. She seems thinks if her toys are put away they are like gone forever. She wants to hoard everything lol I definitely need to remember to stay more calm with her. Sometimes I get so worked up after asking her to clean up for the millionth time and always doing it myself isn’t really teaching her anything.

  • Megan: December 08, 2018

    I always make sure to speak to my son in a calm voice. He is 18 months old, and when he has meltdowns I usually try to talk to him and ask questions. Changing the subject and getting his mind off of whatever he was frustrated about usually helps us a lot too.

  • Kelly Sneed: December 08, 2018

    I make them look me in the eye, explain that it’s ok to be upset or angry, however to calm down, stop crying and tell me what is wrong and we will figure it out. Life goes on after…..

  • Bev Carboneau: December 08, 2018

    fortunately, not a problem for me

  • Chelsea : December 08, 2018

    I think explaining awareness and acknowledging meltdowns are important. Also trying to remain calm is key!

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