My toddler seemed to be having fun. Everything seemed great–but then she saw that her brother had one of the 20 yellow fish toys they’d been happily sharing for an hour. She began to melt. We were outside in our yard, but we were living in a busy neighborhood and the screams and flailing became really intense. My mind immediately went to “What on earth will my neighbors think of us?!” and I became dysregulated myself. The logic I tried to use to help her was not working and things were just ramping up. So I carried my three-year-old upstairs to a quieter place to try to figure out what was going on–also to hide from the public eye, because who wants that kind of pressure?! I was trying to stay calm but to be completely honest, I was in tears too. I did not grow up in a community that “navigated” toddler meltdowns with much grace–they weren’t really allowed and moms who navigated or tolerated them with anything besides punishment were often shamed. I didn’t really know what to do, but I do remember mustering all of the willpower I could and I decided that even if I didn’t know what to do exactly, I wasn’t going to lose it with my kid in this moment. The screaming lasted longer than I’d ever seen–20+ minutes. Nothing I mentioned seemed to help. My child was not interested in breathing, or I spy, or hugs, or connecting with me. She was just loud. But then I got a clue and she said something I won’t ever forget– “Help me, Mommy!” That was something I needed to get me through not only that meltdown but every other toddler meltdown I’d experienced with my children from that day on. I stayed nearby. Reminding her I was there when she was ready and that she was safe. It lasted a long time, but she settled and crawled into my lap. Sobs became less and less until they stopped. We re-connected and after a snack and a juicebox, we went back to playing.
Surely I’m not the only one who has taken a big ole toddler meltdown personally–right? (pssst, if you’re wondering the difference between a tantrum + a meltdown read here)
The intensity of demonstrated emotions can be a super huge burden to bear–especially if toddler emotions were met with punishment when you were a kid. Your toolbox may feel a bit empty as you find yourself in the middle of these instances. But the thing I took from that experience I shared above is this:
A meltdown isn’t any more fun for your toddler than it is for you.
I used to think a toddler who was screaming and yelling was doing something that they really wanted to do and just needed a lesson in self-control to learn how to control what they desired to do. That isn’t the case. I repeat: that is not the case!
That recognition of the frightening struggle a child is having during a meltdown opened my eyes to some other mindsets that have helped significantly as I’ve navigated more and more of these big feelings with my kids:
- A meltdown doesn’t feel any better for your toddler than it does for you–they are out of control
- When meltdowns happen, your toddler doesn’t know how to immediately get out of it
- Trying to force an end to a toddler meltdown doesn’t teach or help them with anything–suppression isn’t the answer
- One of the only things a parent can offer a toddler in the thick of a meltdown is a calm body of quiet support
- When a toddler is in meltdown mode reasoning is not an effective strategy
- Don’t set a time limit in your mind– you’re in this for the long haul with them and your love won’t waver. You are both safe
How does this help? Well, when we can get ourselves into such a posture of peace that their behavior doesn’t shake us, it helps everyone. And for as icky as it can feel for everyone during a meltdown moment, they do always end. That is another big one – These big feeling moments are loud and can feel so long, but they do not last forever. Being a calm and safe body in the middle of a feelings storm for your child is one of the few tools they can actually use to pull themselves out–remember that, mama. It’s a tough job–but you’re helping your child way more than you know when you’re able to keep, or reclaim your peace through these intense moments.
Want to hear more about what each of these things look like in practical everyday life? Do you have a particular struggle you’re trying to navigate that you want some coaching in? We have a toddler workshop coming up that will cover these things and more and we’d love to have you join us!