Wednesday, May 1, 2013

keeping your cool during toddler meltdowns {peaceful parent, happy kids series}

Thanks for all your encouraging comments after my last mama meltdown post. You all gave me some great tips and also the reassurance that this parenthood thing is pretty hard but that we're not in it alone - how lucky I am! It's hard to break life-long habits and sometimes I feel overwhelmed by my commitment to raising my girls without physical discipline, because it's just what most people around here DO. Fortunately for me, I've found a great community of moms teaching me how to do it a different way. So thank you and keep coming back and lending your voice to this series! 

After that post I felt ready to dive back into Dr. Laura Markham's book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

and continue on with the series. This book is so packed with innovative information, I'm pretty sure this will be a loooong series.

This week's topic is something that I wish I'd read about 2 weeks ago: keeping MY cool during meltdowns. Yes, it's important to learn how to help my kids work through their tantrums and big feelings, but they can only do that when I'm calm and in control. They can sense my crazy and I've experienced firsthand that it makes things worse.

Let's be real: young kids - toddlers, especially - are sometimes just plain crazy. Sometimes I look down at them on the floor crying and just go "um...what?" 

But Dr. Laura explains that children get upset often because of their cognitive immaturity, and that they are still developing the neural pathways to calm themselves. Basically, it's their brain's fault! This knowledge certainly allows me to feel more empathy for my kids and to realize that really, it's not personal.

Even though it's plain biology, it still doesn't make it any easier on me as their mama. We generally respond in three ways: Fight, Flight, or Freeze. We want to get away (flight), experience a sudden rage and the desire to make them shut up (fight), or we just go numb (freeze). Or like me, you experience all three in a ten second period.

This is totally natural - our bodies are programmed to respond this way, because we perceive our child's outburst as a threat. But what if we could learn how to not respond this way? Sign me up.

Dr. Laura gives some tips for managing our reactions to our kids' upsets, and after reading these tips and really working intentionally on this for the last week, I can say that it has definitely helped me cope, and in turn, either I am perceiving less tantrums (possible) or they really aren't melting down as much (possible?). Below I've listed four of my favorite tips; there are lots more in the book but these especially resonated with me.

Tips for Keeping Your Cool During Meltdowns 

Take deep breaths and...

Acknowledge your own feelings and remind yourself that this isn't an emergency. 

Say hi to your panic and then tell it that you can handle this. My new favorite catchphrase is "feelings are not an emergency, feelings are not an emergency," and it actually helps! Which leads me then to...

Remind yourself that expressing feelings is a GOOD thing. 

So the hard part is that my kids are going to feel big, deep feelings no matter what I do, and according to Dr. Laura, the only question is whether I will make it OK for them to feel or teach them that their  big feelings are "dangerous." If isn't expressed, it gets stuffed! From there, I can begin to teach them how to regulate their own emotions.  

Tolerate the emotion without taking action. 

I don't need to act on my anger or panic, and when I keep it under control, I'm modeling to them the same thing. But this is a hard one for me, especially when other people are present because I'm a pleaser. It's so easy to feel judgment - and there might actually be some judgment happening - but what's more important, keeping up appearances or nurturing my child? 

As long as she is not hurting herself or someone else, or interrupting something important, there is no emergency. If need be, I can take her into a different room/area and sit with her until she calms down. Again, the teaching moments come after the emotional episode and when their brains are calm enough to be reasoned all she needs during an emotional outpouring is my presence, either right next to her or close by.  

Keep it simple: choose love.  

Our kids need to know that they are loveable despite their behavior. Dr. Markham emphasizes the need for parents to witness their kids' displays of emotions and not to try and fix it in that moment. "Don't force her to express herself in words; she doesn't have access to her rational brain when she's so upset. Of course, you want to teach - but that needs to wait. Your child can't learn until she's calm." Contrary to what I always believed, the teaching moment comes after the emotional episode. Right after a big tantrum, they need an even bigger hug.

And don't forget to breathe!

How do you keep your cool during your kids' meltdowns? 

Check out Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting for more helpful tips for keeping your cool. 

So now I know how to walk myself through my own emotions during my child's meltdowns, but how do I help them walk through their own emotions without making the problem worse and help them learn to regulate themselves? Up next!


  1. Awesome post! You just helped me look many moments in this day a bit differently. You have convinced me that I must get the book, it has been sitting in my cart for quite a while. :)

    1. Oh good - you will NOT be sorry, it's a must-have. Mine is already dog-eared!

  2. It's always good to be reminded of this stuff. What I find is I'm always thinking there is a way to prevent or end the tantrum. What I always have to remember is it is not my goal or job to stop it. I have to be there for it, and for my son.

    1. Dena, me too. It's been a major mental shift that takes time and I'm not always good at it but getting slowly better!


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