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My Child had a MELTDOWN

Our family is fortunate enough to live within walking distance to my brother and his son, who is three years old. Recently, we all took a walk over to their house and the boys played outside for a bit. My son and his cousin enjoyed their time together by pushing the stroller around the driveway and sidewalk. They definitely got a lot of energy out. When it was getting late and the mosquitos were starting to bite, I set a two minute timer and told my son "okay buddy, it's almost time to say bye-bye to your cousin and go home. Mommy set a two minute timer, and when that timer goes off I'm going to put you in the stroller so we can walk home."

When the timer went off, my son smiled, hugged his cousin goodbye, and climbed into his stroller- NOT! The exact opposite happened, actually. He was so upset that it was time to go, he had a full on meltdown- screaming, crying, face turning bright red, flailing in his stroller. Right in front of my older brother, right in front of his son, and out in the open for all the neighbors to witness.

I had a few options here: I could “give in” and let him get out of the stroller so he could continue playing with his cousin. This would stop the tantrum, allow my son to do what he wants, and allow me to avoid any further embarrassment from the passers by. Or, I could ignore his tantrum and walk much faster to get home. This would keep us both dysregulated, unhappy, and embarrassed. Lastly, I could get curious about what was going on for him in that moment that was making him so upset, which is ultimately what I decided to do. We got to a safe spot on the sidewalk, I took a pause and three big deep breaths, then got down on his level. Please keep in mind that he’s not even two years old yet, so his communication is limited. He was crying “mommy” and reaching for me, so I picked him up out of the stroller and held onto him. I told him “I can see that you’re very upset that we had to leave. It’s okay to be upset.” I paused, and let him cry some more. After a few seconds, he was pushing away from me and trying to get down. I let him down and he walked behind the stroller and started pushing. The screaming stopped, the tears subsided, and I figured out what the real problem was: he wanted to be in control of the stroller.

Children have their entire days dictated for them by their caregivers. I think it’s easy to forget that they are little people too, who want to have a say in what they do throughout their day. It is our job as parents to keep our kids safe, and it is their job to explore and learn. Unfortunately, with parents needing to work, kids’ school schedules, and the routine day-to-day, it’s difficult to allow our children to have any say in what gets done when. I believe with the lack of control our kids have in their lives comes built up frustration in their little bodies. This can lead to so many big feelings and dysregulated moments for both the child and the parent.

I don’t want to leave you with too many questions- the walk home was a very slow half mile walk. My son insisted on pushing the stroller almost the entire way, and it was a crisp Texas 85 degrees with no breeze. We all got hot, sweaty, and quite tired as we approached our home; but, we made it.

What I did was dig under my child’s behavior to uncover the unmet need. He was longing for autonomy, connection, and physical activity. I was longing to get home. Both of our needs were met, and more than that, our relationship was strengthened because I got curious about his feelings and was able to meet his needs.

I invite you to try and do the same the next time your child has a big feeling or complete meltdown: get curious about those feelings and see what need is going unmet. But before you do that, make sure you are regulated yourself. Step away if you’re able to and take three big deep breaths to reset your nervous system before approaching the situation- this will help you stay calm and will allow your child to borrow your calm during their storm.


Thanks for reading,


Brianna

This was us for half a mile. It was exhausting, but worth it!

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