I am sure it will come as no surprise that many of my clients seek help for children who have tantrums or meltdowns, In the the therapy world we call this emotional dysregulation. If your child reaches school age and suffers from these on a very regular basis then we note that they have a problem with emotional regulation.
I know that they are a big challenge and can be hard for any parent to respond, contain and manage them, especially they are over the the terrible twos. Let me help you to understand them:
Tantrums vs Meltdowns
I know many child therapists distinguish between the two, but neither are clinical terms. In my opinion, tantrum is a milder. During a tantrum, you may be able to help your child and they may have some control. A meltdown is an extreme form and your child may be totally out of control and you will not be able to calm them down. It’s likely that it will only stop when your child has worn both of you out.
Why does my child have them?
Mostly your child is struggling with emotions, the no 1 is anger but I work with many children who are very anxious and this can lead to an accumulation of feelings of which then “blow”. This is especially common for children who may be socially anxious and emotions can build all day at school and then blow when they return home. This is very hard for parents to manage, especially if there are no problems at school.
For other children, big feelings are expressed as they have yet to learn socially appropriate ways of talking about them. This is often developmental, children’s connections to their higher, wise and rational mind won’t fully connect until they are 7. In addition, children who have ADHD, anxiety and learning issues are at a big disadvantage than others and are more likely to “blow”.
How parents can escalate them unintentionally.
Whilst temperament, anxiety and learning issues have a part to play, the environment has a part too. We all have times when we don’t know what to do and unfortunately, you may escalate a situation by:
1.Invalidating your child’s feelings
When your child is upset, they are really upset and will be experiencing their feelings in an intense way, if we respond by saying:
Don’t worry honey, it’s just…..you will feel better later……lets just look at this
Quite unintentionally by distracting and deflecting, you may be minimizing your child’s feeling. It is likely they will not feel accepted or heard and will continue to shout even more.
2. Reacting back
During a meltdown, your child has lost all reason. Their Amygdala will be in charge which is mindless. They say all kinds of awful things that they really don’t mean. They may hate themselves, so they tell you that they hate you. When parents hear this often parents collapse emotionally and take it personally. This interaction will sometimes trigger your Amygdala and you react back by either fighting, shouting or collapsing by crying. Be kind to yourself, we all make mistakes and if this interaction is on a regular basis, seek help to understand your reactions.
3. Not being consistent
Many children feel very unsafe if they get their own way all the time. you need to ensure that if you say No, you mean it. Your goal is to ignore behavior directed at getting you to change your mind. When the child stops acting up and returns to playing quietly or speaking in a calm tone of voice, be ready with positive reinforcement.
“I like the way you calmed down,” or “It’s so nice when you speak to me this way.” Try to work with one behaviour at a time and be consistent. I work with many parents who each have different parenting styles, this should not be a problem but normally they each have a very different method of management of the behaviors, so sit down agree what you are going to do together and stick to it. Make it a family rule and inform your children in a family meeting, remember a child is more likely to take responsibility for their behaviour if they feel that they are part of the solution.
Here is a free download on how to initiate Family Meetings to help you to connect and remain calm in 2018, with much love Catherine