In the past week, I’ve had a couple different conversations with people who have kids in their life that are struggling with meltdowns triggered by anger and frustration. This is something we have also dealt with to various extents with each of our children.
Most of the conversations I had this week dealt with how to best react to these meltdowns, and as I found myself thinking back over one of them this morning, it hit me that what has been the most rewarding strategy for me when I find we’re dealing with a lot of meltdowns is to take a step back and put some strategies in place for preventing them in the first place.
Because, honestly, no matter how well I deal with the meltdown, nobody ever feels really good once it’s happened. But if we can prevent it, both my child and I experience the thrill of victory, however small or short-lived.
So here are three of my strategies for preventing meltdowns. You’ll notice that some of them start long before the meltdown is anywhere in sight while others are in the 5-10 minute window when you see the meltdown coming. I’ve been particularly inspired this week by this post from Joy in my Kitchen because of her positivity and great ideas so you’ll see some of her ideas liberally sprinkled in with my own.
1. Reward meltdown-free periods of time.
Depending on how bad things are, you may have to start very small with this, like giving a sticker for every hour that your child can go without a meltdown and eventually working your way up to days and even weeks. Talk about it beforehand and pick a tantalizing reward for them to work toward – perhaps a favorite toy or outing when they have 10 or 20 stickers. Keep the chart in a highly visible place and talk it up whenever you can!
2. Plan and act out some strategies they can employ when they feel themselves starting to get angry.
Ask your child what things they feel help them calm down when they feel frustrated. You may be surprised at how well they know themselves in their calm moments. My three oldest were able to answer this question pretty quickly easily.
For my 11-year old, she just needs to be able to walk away and have a few minutes on her own to cool down. But if I respond with a “Don’t walk away angry…” response, (which I’m prone to do), she doesn’t know how to diffuse her anger and things just get worse and worse if we try to talk it out right then. We’re both learning that if I can be a little patient and give her a few minutes that we can talk it out pretty quickly once she’s calm.
My 8-year old loves to look at burning candles and feels immediately calm once we light one. When I see her start melting down, if I can catch it and pull out a candle, light it and let her sit and stare at it for a few minutes, she is usually fine. I find this strategy a little weird, but it works wonders for her if I just remember to do it and catch her early enough.
Our 5-year old is still working on her strategies, but she is very artistic and we have recently had a lot of success with keeping crayons and paper ready on her bed and letting her retreat to there and just color quietly for a few minutes until she is ready to join us again. At the moment, she still fights it when I send her there, but I think it’s usually that I’m catching her too late. And even when she fights it, it works quickly – usually within 5 minutes, we have a new child with a happy attitude.
3. During happy times, read and tell stories in which people struggle with anger, frustration, and unfairness and find healthy (or unhealthy) ways of dealing with it.
The phrase “during happy times” is key here. No amount of storytelling, lecturing, or teaching will accomplish anything but further frustration if you try to do it when your child is already frustrated. But if you make some of these stories a part of your family lore, it works sometimes in the heat of the moment to mention a key strategy a favorite character used in a similar situation.
These stories can come from a wide variety of sources including the Bible, picture books, and your own childhood. I was astounded the first few times we read with our kids the Bible stories of Cain and Abel and Joseph being sold by his brothers to Egypt how they zeroed right in without any prompting on the sibling rivalry and the unfairness of the situation and had a million ideas for how Cain and Joseph’s brothers could have and should have responded differently. I remember thinking, “Where are all these ideas when you are fighting with your sister about something being unfair?” but when I asked a similar question, it was their turn to be astounded because they hadn’t even seen the parallels to their own sibling rivalries. We had several wonderful conversations about our own sinful hearts and how these stories are a warning to us to never let jealousy and anger with our siblings fester because it can lead you to do things you could never imagine doing.
Picture books abound that deal with these topics. I’m hoping to do another post soon listing out some of our favorites, but I think this post is long enough for now.
How about you? What are your strategies for dealing with meltdowns and especially for preventing them? I’d love to hear your ideas!