You’re in the middle of the grocery store quickly after school pick up. Your six year old is asking for a snack, and you remind them you’re going home for dinner shortly. While this would normally be met with only slight whining and grumbling, a meltdown occurs right in the middle of aisle three.
Uncontrollable tears, sobs mixed with screams, kicking and thrashing – meltdowns activate all of your and your child’s senses and overloads almost instantly. St Petersburg child therapist Juli Hindsley acknowledges that it is much easier said than done, but only when a parent responds in a calm manner can the meltdown be minimized.
“When a parent responds to chaos with chaos, it only prolongs the behavior,” Hindsley shares. “When a child feels out of control, they get exponentially scared if someone around them, especially their parent, doesn’t appear in control.
The St. Petersburg child therapist suggests using a mantra-type reminder when you are overloaded with emotions to try and stay calm. Repeating sayings like “I am in control” and “This will pass” can help focus our emotions in a positive direction.
For more intense meltdowns, Hindsley suggests the “Surrender” strategy, where the parent resigns to riding the meltdown out in a non-threatening manner like sitting on the floor. She advises against making eye contact and trying to talk to the child as well – simply be there for him or her. Once things deescalate, additional strategies like offering water, getting fresh air, or punching pillows, which not only feels good but can be bonding!
While these current parenting strategies can feel different than those of previous generations, Hindsley warns that it is okay, kids are different now too. Many tactics that a parent might turn to in these difficult moments may actually be escalating the situation. The Child & Family Therapy Center is here to help with strategies and tactics to manage emotions for children and parents alike.