Young kids get upset for a lot of reasons. The socks they’ve been wearing all day are suddenly the wrong color. They saw a leaf that looked like a spider. You served them their favorite dinner. Someone looked at them funny.
You get the idea.
And if you don’t, you must not have young kids.
Upset kids don’t calmly work through their problems. They don’t seek solutions. They don’t take a 5 minute break to get themselves together. They just meltdown.
Just last week at bedtime (the bane of my existence) Miss O came into her room in a super mood, closed the door behind her, looked at the door, then threw herself on the floor screaming, “NO! NO! NO!”
Ummmm… what? I never did find out what that special moment was all about.
The fact is that you don’t have to understand, or even identify what the problem is when a child is melting down. What’s important is to help them get back in control.
Why I don’t say, “It’s okay.”
It’s okay is a common phrase to say or whisper to kids who are in the middle of a meltdown.
The trouble is, to the child in distress, it’s not okay. A child having a meltdown, however ridiculous the reason is to you or I, does not think that everything’s okay.
Telling them it is can convey that we don’t understand what they’re dealing with or why they’re upset. Now, honestly, sometimes we don’t. But, like I said, the reason they’re upset is a secondary issue. First and foremost we have to help them work through it.
Think of it this way: Have you ever had a horrible day? Like a really, really awful day? If at the end of that day you were venting to your spouse and they just said, “Oh well. It’s okay,” would you feel better? Would you feel validated? I doubt it. You would likely feel even worse because now someone who’s supposed to be on your side is essentially telling you you’re wrong for being upset.
Kids might not be dealing with major issues like bills, jobs, and raising the next generation, but to them their problems feel just as big. So when they cry over spilled milk remember, it’s not okay… but it will be.
What I say instead.
I usually take a multi-step process when helping Miss O through a meltdown. First, I give her time (and sometimes space) to see if she can calm herself. It doesn’t usually happen, but I give her a few minutes all the same.
The next thing I do is hold my arms out. If she wants me to pick her up she’ll extend her arms back or give me another signal. If not, I’ll just sit next to her. At some point she’ll want to be held. That’s just how she is.
I have also learned that saying anything to my daughter while she’s in the throes of a tantrum just makes it worse. So I wait, and hold her, and rock her.
When she’s ready to hear me I say 6 simple words:
You’re safe, and we love you.
That’s it. No fancy mind games. Nothing that isn’t completely true.
You’re safe, and we love you.
Really, isn’t that all she needs to know in that moment? She is safe, physically, mentally, and emotionally. And no matter how upset she gets, no matter how loud she screams, no matter what, we love her.
I find that once I say those words and she hears them, she becomes much more calm, much more willing to talk out her problem, and much more rational. And, honestly, isn’t that the point?
Do you have something you say to help tame meltdowns? Share in the comments.