We call them “slow motion meltdowns” in our house. I am a mom of a 20-month-old spirited boy. He wants what he wants, when he wants it. Don’t we all? My son knows how much it hurts to throw himself on the ground when I can’t catch him. So instead, he has perfected a slow-motion fall backward that ends with him crying, looking up at the sky.
When talking to other moms, including my own, the common advice seems to be: “Just leave him there, and he will come around when he’s ready.” This didn’t feel right to me, and it didn’t seem to work for my son. I have been a mental health counselor for more than 10 years, and it was my time to practice what I preach: Get on the same level, listen, empathize, and give choices. Below are four techniques that have really helped me deal with my son’s tantrums.
1. Enjoy the view. My son’s worst meltdowns usually happen in a public place. One of these took place at the park on an unusually beautiful day. The sky was bright and the clouds were intensely white. I remember this vividly because, on that particular day, I decided to lay down right next to him. It was quite relaxing, and we both started talking about things we could see. Before I knew it, my stress was relieved, and he was back to a joyful mood. Getting on their level might look funny at times, but it works in taming those tantrums.
2. There is a good use for a newspaper. From early on, my little guy would get really upset when I couldn’t figure out what he wanted. I would grab a newspaper, start a tear at the top, and let him shred the rest. Even though he was upset at first, he resolved whatever was frustrating him fairly quickly using this coping skill. If you work in an office like I do, one of my favorite things is shredding paper. It’s satisfying, so why wouldn’t it work for our little ones?
3. Go outside no matter what. I think children get cabin fever like the rest of us, and they don’t know how to say what’s wrong. But we have learned that by taking him outside – even if just on the front porch – bundled up or otherwise, it really helps him reset his mood.
4. Ask if they want a hug. My son’s mini meltdowns could happen for any reason: I chose the wrong shirt; he got cookies instead of veggie straws; or Peppa Pig was on when he wanted Bubble Guppies. When they do happen, I ask if he wants a hug and reach my arms toward him, but I do not touch him. Then I wait a minute or two, and try again using the same approach. I continue to do this until he reaches his arms toward me. It’s important that I exercise patience and wait for him to accept – which usually takes two or three minutes before he is reaching toward me, wanting a hug.
Despite its challenges, I love this stressful, fun, playful age. I hope these techniques will help bring you a little more joy through the meltdown phase. They do say it’s a phase, right?