Perspective Shift on Meltdowns & Discipline
Knowing how to calm a child during a meltdown is not easy. Parenting a child with special needs is exhausting. However, the needs of the child and how his cognitive differences show up on any given day will impact the severity of mom’s fatigue. Mom’s burnout is exponentially magnified when her child struggles with behavior issues. For that mom in the trenches, finding a way to calm her child during a meltdown can be impossible.
Without reservation, while I was in the thick of daily tantrums and meltdowns with my son, I was a mess. Anyone who knows me has heard me repeatedly say the same thing over and over again.
Yep, in that season of absolute misery, I wanted to “check myself into a mental institution.” All of the parenting strategies I knew to use were absolutely useless and I felt helpless. I had no idea how to calm my child during a meltdown.
Prior to the adoption of our son, I would never in my wildest dreams have believed that I would have zero control of my child. Once my son’s volatile behaviors began to display themselves at 18 months old, my world was completely rocked. All that I thought I knew about being a good Christian mom went out the window.
In fact, each technique and strategy that had been effective with my girls was useless and completely ineffective with my son. Read Special Needs & Need for Perspective Shift on Discipline to learn more about our journey.
I was the mom who had read all of the Christian parenting books out there. When my biological children had a meltdown, I could bring order quickly. A firm voice or swift consequence and I had successfully trained my child to calm down from a meltdown. In hindsight, I can see now that my perspective on parenting was pretty skewed from the beginning. Determined, I was going to parent my children the EXACT OPPOSITE way my parents had raised me.
In my home, there would be love, stability, consistency and discipline. Dang it!
Oh, Mercy! God clearly had other plans for our family when He brought our boy into our world.
By the time he could move, our son steamrolled his way through our home. He screamed bloody murder every moment of the day. Destruction was his middle name. He manhandled anything and everything in our home. Some of the behaviors we navigated on a daily basis included: scaling walls, escaping the house, hitting, scratching, biting and destruction of property.
There wasn’t a single discipline strategy that helped calm my youngest child during his raging meltdowns. Consequently, I suffered deep emotional anguish. As I have discussed in previous posts, we lived in a war zone, navigating grenades at every turn.
Despite being surrounded by a loving Christian community, I felt like I was drowning. I felt alone, isolated and I eventually believed I was a failure as a parent. At times I believed that we had made a mistake in adopting our son. Plummeting to the depths of despair, I was desperate and broken. Broken for my husband, my two biological daughters and my adopted son. His hourly meltdowns were too much for me.
Download Your Free 4Four Steps to Meltdown Recovery Cheat Sheet
“Parents take way too much credit when their children are doing well. They take way too much credit when their children are doing poorly.”
Rather than checking myself into a mental institution for what promised to be a mini-vacation, I decided to make a different plan. In order to prevent myself from “setting the house on fire because I was about to lose it,” I made an appointment for counseling.
Side note: No one panic… I was never going to set my house on fire. I use A LOT of hyperbole when I tell a story. Its one of my gifts. Ha!
Back to it…
One winter morning after a few hours of desperately trying to calm him during one of his meltdowns, I made the call. I was so overwhelmed with his screeching,with knowing my daughters were struggling in his chaos, and with my own internal distress that I knew I had to do something.
I sent out a mass text S.O.S. to my tribe of girlfriends and asked for a referral. Within an hour I had a the name of a counselor.
Beginning the counseling process in that season has been a life saver for me. God used that time of absolute hell to humble me. That season was so humbling and broke me in a million tiny pieces. My prideful butt was so black and blue from the beating that my son’s behavior inflicted upon me.
In true form, God took those million pieces, gathered them up, and delivered me into Christian counseling. Unquestionably, I had a lot of my own emotional garbage to weed through. Apparently, I needed a major kick in the pants to make that initial call.
Needless to say, my astute counselor and I have done some serious work these past few years. One of the many nuggets of truth she has offered to me has been this.
We as parents take way too much responsibility for the successes and failures of our children.
It took me awhile to chew and digest this, but I finally got it and was able to receive this concept for the truth that it brings.
God is God.
I am not God.
‘Yes, Lindsay. I know that,” you may be thinking. ‘How does that have anything to do with my ability to calm my child during a meltdown?’
Let me put it to you this way. My ability to make any human being do anything is non-existent. I am unable to control people, even my little people.
Yes, I can influence, teach and guide my children and others. In the end, though, I don’t have control over anyone but myself.
I didn’t realize how unhealthy it was for me to view (although not consciously) my children’s behaviors as a reflection of me.
Having gained that new perspective, I was able to see how in years past I had disciplined my girls from a place of my own pride. How often do we as moms torture ourselves about what other moms think of us?
- I wonder what “So-and-So” must think of me after my daughter pitched a fit at the playground?
- How did I look as a mom to the mom sitting next to me in Bible Study?
- That lady must think I am a horrible mother because my child threw a fit in the parking lot!
- His preschool teacher must think I am a terrible parent because I could not calm my child during his meltdown.
I realize now how often my parenting has stemmed from my own “self-centered” ego. From my need for the approval of others. Yuck!
It was my inability to control my son that saved my entire family.
I couldn’t stop my toddler from running into the street. Nope. We couldn’t prevent him from using a broom handle to unhook the chain locks and escape to run wildly through the neighborhood. Forcing him to sleep and to “obey right away?” Calm my smallest child during a destructive meltdown?
Yeah right. I had zero control then and I really have zero control now.
It took years for me to finally realize that in order to effectively parent my son, I had to completely shift my perspective on parenting and discipline.
My little boy, like so many adopted children, through no fault of his own, was exposed to dangerous substances that severely impacted his developing brain. I had to wake up to the notion that his cognitive differences made his ability to self-regulate a very difficult task.
A Complete Shift in Perspective Led to Big Changes
The key to learning how to effectively discipline my son was to shift my perspective. Historically, I had viewed his behavior through the lens of “He is choosing not to behave.” Once I recognized his need to be taught how to “behave” (self-regulate), I began to respond to his meltdowns with a new freedom.
We have seen HUGE changes in my son’s behavior since this shift. Miraculous changes. Not perfection by any means, but huge gains in his ability to recover and calm himself down.
Fortunately, I have learned so much about parenting children with different cognitive issues over the past several years. Additionally, I have been blessed with an education from amazing local specialists. As I have become involved in adoption and special needs communities, I have gleaned so much more compassion for these precious children and their parents.
Steps to Recovery
The compassion that I have developed for children who are “wired-differently” has fueled the development of my organization, A Heart For All Students. I have begun this journey to equip moms with a greater understanding of their children’s wiring and resulting behaviors.
My goal is to free moms from the emotional chokehold of our culture’s traditional parenting mentality (punishment and rewards) so they can more effectively and confidently parent. When Mom (and Dad) are free to parent and love based upon their greater understanding of the needs of their unique child, true growth for all begins to occur.
Over the past couple of months, I have begun to observe the repetitive steps that I use to help my son recover from a meltdown or tantrum (there is a difference between the two, but for now, I will use the terms loosely.)
When I was in the thick of chaos and confusion, I would have done anything to have someone come alongside me and walk me through this journey. I don’t want any mom to have to suffer in isolation the way so many of us do.
My heart hurts for all of the children who grow up believing that they are “inherently bad” because they can’t seem to get it together. So many adults are now living from the dire emotional consequences of a childhood lived as a disappointment to the adults around them.
Ultimately, I owe so much of my new parenting education to Becky Bailey, PhD and the late Karyn Purvis PhD. The separate work of these two ladies combined with my own education and training has been the most influential resources that have impacted my shift in what is effective discipline and parenting.
These amazing women have written books that are on my recommended reading list for moms of special needs kids. Download that free download here.
The Cycle Has to Stop with Us, Friends.
While I know I cannot serve each child and mom (and Dad) individually, I can share with you, Friend. My heart is to share what I have learned in this journey with you so that you can equip your child for the incredible life that God has planned.
Later, when you see that distressed mom in the grocery store with her screaming kid, you can reach out to her. She is everywhere. She needs community and someone to care and believe in her. Let’s love our children well by loving mommas in the messiness of meltdowns.
I have been writing like a crazy woman all summer long, creating my course with the most useful information that I have received through four years of absolute you-know-what. I want to provide the mommas “in-the-trenches” with actionable content while also providing the “why” behind the strategies and steps that I offer.
This material really should be called: “What I would have KILLED to know when in the you-know-what of Special Needs Parenting.” Ha! What do you think? I’m open to ideas… seriously… 🙂
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I am so excited to launch my ecourse filled with in-depth explanation and the Behind the Behaviors: The Why & How of the 4 Steps to Meltdown Recovery. My goal is to provide you with actionable strategies to equip your struggling child so that he can navigate big emotions well. I want to cut through all of the wasted energy and information that I encountered during my 4 years of on-the-ground meltdown training and share what I found to be most useful.
These steps are the basic framework of meltdown recovery to get you started. I will equip you with the why and hows in the course. Yay!!
We are a Tribe & we need you!
I need your help in order to not only help you, but also that “in-the-trenches” special needs mom in your community. She is there and you will find her. She is the one dripping with sweat manhandling a screaming 7 year-old boy in the bakery aisle. Encourage her, Friend. Point her to this ecourse and our growing Private Facebook Community. We are in this together.
What About You, Friend? How do you walk alongside your child during a meltdown into recovery and calm? Comment below. Would love to know your strategies. 🙂