There are a few things we know to be unequivocally true as parents: crumbs will be lost forever in the car seats, bedtime is not as adorable as we imagined it would be, and epic meltdowns are inevitable. The best thing we can do is to learn about why and when they happen, so we can effectively anticipate and respond to them (and learn from them afterwards).
We asked Hopscotch’s Chief Clinical Officer and child psychiatrist, Dr. Sourav Sengupta for his top tips for helping parents pre-, during, and post-meltdown.
- Be proactive and plan ahead: if you know that your child struggles to leave playdates or completely loses it when you turn off the TV, mentally log those as meltdown “red zones.” By identifying the circumstances that tend to trigger your kid, you can arm yourself with the tools you need to respond to them in the moment.
- Ask yourself, what is the function of this behavior? When your child melts down, are they seeking attention, trying to gain access to something, attempting to escape a situation? Once you understand what they are trying to achieve (yes, even if just looks like flailing their arms and shrieking), you can work towards helping them develop more adaptive behaviors that will allow them to get their needs met and better cope in the moment.
- Stop talking. Less is more! As parents, we have a tendency to want to explain everything to our children. Not only are they not rational beings at a young age, any reason they do possess goes comPLETEly out the window in the middle of a meltdown. So keep your words to a minimum and focus on validating and comforting them. (“I know you’re upset that…” combined with physical touch/embrace.)
- Allow space for children to learn “cause and effect.” Sometimes, we parents can get in the way of our children understanding how their actions can impact themselves and those around them. We feel compelled to keep them from making a mistake, rather than learning from a mistake. Of course, health and safety concerns trump other considerations, but otherwise, children can learn a lot from feeling cold because they “didn’t want to” wear their coat outside. You can also help them understand logical consequences of their actions, e.g. if you throw the toy, it will go away for a while.
- Give it a minute. The emotions that come up during a meltdown are intense – for both the child and parent. So don’t try to dissect it immediately after. Let the cortisol flow (and then ebb) and in a calmer moment, help your child understand what happened and why and teach them how they can try a different way next time.
- Adopt a “learning mindset”. We as parents are learning just as our children are – we’re essentially growing up together. So if you can approach parenting kind of like school—where each stage and phase is like another course in your curriculum—you will continue to develop complex new skills alongside your child, as you guide them through growing up. And remember, one of the best ways to learn is by messing up now and again. By showing our kids that we can learn from our mistakes, we help them grow to be better emotional learners, too.