How to handle meltdowns; and let yourself meltdown too
What to do for the kids:
I wrote previously about the difference between meltdowns and tantrums here and briefly discussed what we did and do now to help our kids through them. The focus was more the differences so now I'm going to focus on how to deal.
Will used to have multiple hours long meltdowns every day. Real talk--we had NO clue what to do or how to address it. "Loving your kids on purpose" taught to tell your child they could be happy or be alone. We implemented this. We hated it. Other sources and parenting mentors told us to spank our kids out of their "tantrums". I don't know how spanking a crying child is going to do anything but make them cry more but that is how it used to be. Still more said take away their favorite things and they'd stop. The goal of all these methods was to stop the crying.
Initially, we thought this was our goal too. We learned, too late, that it shouldn't be. Yes, the meltdowns are hard to listen to. They can result in destruction of stuff and even in hurt children or parents. But the need during a meltdown is to expel all those massive feelings from their bodies. Will has described the feelings of a meltdown as heavy and tight but loosening and lightening as he screams. His body needs that release. Will is not violent during meltdowns. Will is not violent. Instead, he curls into a tiny ball in the corner and sobs. He used to climb in his bed and scream. But he didn't thrash or destroy.
A safe space for Will was whatever he chose. I knew he wasn't going to tear things or beat the walls. A safe space for a child who thrashes and destroys will look different. They might need mild restraining. They might need just soft things to punch. A punching bag might be in order. An open space with nothing to destroy may be necessary for the kids who thrashes a lot. What each child needs is going to look different. Mack would benefit from running in the yard or doing Legos. Kae needs cuddles. Rory needs space then safety to vent without me judging them. When they were very young, we made calm down corners and glitter bottles to refocus them as they were coming out of their meltdowns. These things were not effective during the height though.
As we accepted their need to express their big feelings, and learned not to intervene but instead to make them safe, we slowly began listening for the beginnings of calming. At that point, we would go and calmly offer hugs. We used our breathing to help slow their breathing. We hugged tightly and the force of the hugs helped them calm too. Then we offered to sit with them and wait until they could talk. As they got older, we began to introduce tools to help them relieve the anger faster. Things like primal scream and throwing soft things at beds. Reading was a hit with Will and Lego or Snap Circuit time for Mack. Kae just needs hugs at this point. Rory needs time for art.
The parent part:
Meltdowns are hard on kids but they are hard on us parents too. Watching our littles struggle with such huge, difficult feelings makes us feel useless and helpless. I yearned to help Will not experience the massive onslaught of sadness and frustration. I wanted to protect him from those things attacking his small body. I couldn't. They are a part of life. His life will always be fraught with feeling things harder. I had to accept that as part of my new parenting journey. In my post about grief, I talk about this a bit.
IT IS OKAY TO FEEL SAD ABOUT YOUR KIDS' STRUGGLES.
IT IS OKAY TO FEEL ANGRY THAT THIS IS HOW YOUR KIDS EXPERIENCE LIFE.
IT IS OKAY TO FEEL RUNDOWN.
IT IS OKAY TO MELTDOWN.
I cannot tell you the number of times I screamed and cried about how Will experiences life. Or Mack. I cannot count the times I have cried that I am a failure. I am here to tell you it is okay to not feel or be okay. This life is HARD. Impossible even. Social media with parents sharing the happy moments don't help because our happy moments are fewer. Remember, social media lies. People share only their best life. Not the messy bits. Life is not social media. It is raw and ugly more often than it is pretty.
Really, as I have been writing this, I have reprimanded at least two children several times. I even had to stop writing and put my computer down to have a long discussion about blame and personal responsibility with Mack. Embrace the messy. The messy parts teach us about ourselves and our kids. Dwell in the happy, though. Laugh with your kids and shout it from the rooftops. Find what makes them light up and do it. Every day. Record the joy. But don't hide the sorrow. Both are part of life. Some of us just have more sorrow than joy.
Always. ALWAYS. Reach out to someone you trust to vent. Seriously. And I am here for you too. Shoot over an email, send a pm on insta or FB or Twitter. I won't judge. I will sit with your in your grief and struggle. I will wait until you ask for advice.