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How to Calm Your Child During a Meltdown
During a meltdown, do you know how to calm your child?
BTW… I am referring to your kid’s meltdown… not yours. That’s another blog post.
If you have an adopted child, a child with cognitive differences, or if you’re just in a tougher season with your kiddo, the relevance of this question is even more profound.
Raising a higher-needs child can be exhausting.
And the reality is that the way that our child’s cognitive differences show up on any given day can definitely impact the severity of our momma fatigue. Right?
Then those tantrums and meltdowns are exponentially magnified as we battle our own internal dialogue and unmet expectations.
For the mom in the trenches, finding a way to calm her child during a meltdown can feel impossible.
My Own Hot Mess
Girl, I know this because I’ve lived it.
While in the thick of my son’s daily tantrums and meltdowns, I was a hot mess.
And while I would like to say that by using the word hot I’m refering to my physical appearance, let’s just say,
At that time, I considered the day a win if I was able to get a shower in and brush my teeth.
Please tell me you can relate.
Sadly, that was my reality. I mean, anyone who knew me in that season heard me repeatedly say,
“I just want to check myself into a mental institution.”
And while I often said this in jest as a way to try to make light of my desperation, deep down I just wanted to get away and hide.
Just to MAKE.IT.STOP.
All of the parenting strategies I knew to use were absolutely useless.
I felt helpless, overwhelmed, and as if I was going crazy.
Let alone calm my own. Ouch.
Shifting Perspective On Discipline
Before adopting our son, I would never have believed my family would end up where we had in that brutal season.
In my “perfect parenting days,” I would have looked at me and my kid and thought,
‘That mom has zero control over her child. She needs to get it together.’
At least that is what I would likely have believed deep down inside.
Once my son’s volatile behaviors began to display themselves at 18 months old, our family was completely rocked.
Me in particular? Shattered.
All that I thought I knew about being a good Christian mom failed.
In fact, each technique and strategy that once worked with my girls was useless and completely ineffective with my son.
Everything I depended on to anchor my identity as a good Christian mom dissipated.
As a result, confusion and anxiety became the driving force of my life.
The Christian Parenting Books
In my earlier parenting years, I read every Christian parenting book I could get my hands on.
If one of my girls dared to have their version of a meltdown, I brought order quickly.
A firm voice or swift consequence and those perceived infractions were done (most of the time).
“Absolutely not. Not appropriate.”
Those scathing words did the trick. The girls acquieced and it was over.
And I was proud of this accomplishment. Good Christian momma, right? (Insert sarcasm.)
In hindsight, I can see that my perspective on parenting was pretty skewed from the beginning.
I was determined to parent my children the EXACT OPPOSITE way my parents had raised me. (Sorry, Mom and Dad. It took me too long to figure it out.)
In my home, there would be love, stability, consistency and discipline. Dang it!
God clearly had greater plans for our family than to be a behavior modification lab. And so He delivered our baby boy into our home.
Once mobile, our son screamed and steamrolled his way through our home every second of the day.
Daily behaviors included:
- scaling walls,
- escaping the house,
- biting and
- throwing and smashing glasses, frames, dishes, etc…
- Did I mention screaming?
- Oh… not sleeping ever?!!
There wasn’t a single discipline strategy that helped calm him during his raging meltdowns.
Not one peaceful way to prevent him from getting into whatever it was he wanted to ingest or play with.
“No, Buddy. You can’t eat batteries.”
Then it followed. The sound that prededed that sudden burning sensation travelling across my face.
His frustration tolerance was non-existent. The slightest resistance to his efforts resulted in aggression and rage.
Most often, it was towards me.
Suffering Leads to Good Even If It Sucks
We were living in a war zone, navigating grenades at every turn.
Despite being surrounded by a loving Christian community, I felt so alone.
Drowning in shame and isolated, I soon believed that I was a failure as a parent.
Desperate and broken.
I was devastated for my husband, my two daughters and for my boy.
His hourly meltdowns were too much for me, for the girls, and for him.
He was suffering just as much. But it didn’t look like it from the outside.
He looked like a “normal” little boy who was being a brat or had a bad momma… at least that was my assessment.
Ultimately, my family lived in what felt like hell for years. The term emotional anguish doesn’t do it justice.
And here is the thing: My family wasn’t alone.
There are millions of adoptive, foster and special needs families in our country living this life of chaos, fear and shame.
Trauma. It’s real and it’s pervasive.
And it needs to be ripped out of the shadows and exposed for what it is in the foster and adoption world. (Again, another post.)
The Need For True Self-Care
“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.
Hyperbole is a powerful literary technique. That’s the way I roll.
Making the Call
One winter morning after a few hours of desperately trying to maintain some level of calm in the house, I hit a wall.
I was so overwhelmed…
- with his screeching.
- knowing my daughters were struggling in the chaos,
- and with my own distress
I sent out a mass S.O.S. text to my tribe of girlfriends and asked for a Christian counselor referral.
Within an hour I had an appointment scheduled.
Seeking help in the form of counseling was a game changer in my story as it is for so many women.
Hell to Humble
God used that time of absolute hell to humble me.
It 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.
The late Dr. Karyn Purvis wrote in her book, The Connected Child,
When an adult is avoiding her own history, entangled in her past, or disorganized about her losses, she can’t accurately assess and respond to a harmed child’s reality.
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 it finally clicked.
Inability Saves My Family
My inability to control my son saved my entire family.
Ultimately, could I prevent my 3 year old from running into the street every single time he tried? Nope.
We couldn’t prevent him from using a broom handle to unhook the chain locks to escape the house.
Try? Yes. Guarantee success? No way.
Force him to sleep and to “obey right away?” Yeah right.
I had zero control over him then and have zero control now.
In order to effectively parent my son, I had to completely shift my perspective on parenting and discipline.
I had to wake up to the notion that my boy’s cognitive differences made his ability to self-regulate well a very difficult task.
A Complete Shift Led to Big Changes
Historically, I viewed childhood behaviors as do most in our culture: through the lens of all behavior is willful.
Once I recognized my son’s cognitive needs and differences, I was able to see his need to be taught how to behave in a way that he could process and recieve.
This allowed me to respond to his meltdowns not from a place of offense, but from a place of support.
Instead of freaking out and coming down hard on him, I could meet him where he was with grace.
So many women have believed this lie that says that something is wrong with us if our kid doesn’t behave the way the world wants them to.
We literally become offended by or surprised by our kids’ meltdowns and tantrums (especially when in public).
In the face of “bad” behavior, we become trapped by the urge to stop the behavior.
Ultimately, this is because we feel like a failure if we don’t get our kids in line.
Fear is a Liar
This is not good, Momma. By parenting from this place of fear, we end up missing the real issue and the cycle often continues.
Dr. Purvis put it in her book, The Connected Child,
Only a secure mother can say, “Tell me what hurts, sweetheart,” and listen attentively and respectfully to the answer…. Only a secure mother can find the heart of the highest-risk child.
Scripture tells us that God seeks after the heart, right?
Dr. Purvis’s words may be hard to process, but I know from experience how true they are. My own insecurities and fear made navigating my son’s meltdowns exponentially more difficult.
Perspective Shift Game Changer
We have seen HUGE changes in my son’s behavior since my shift in perspective.
From willful disobedience to not yet equipped.
Game changer. Miraculous changes.
He is not perfect by any means. No one is.
But we’ve seen huge gains in my son’s ability to calm himself when he feels out of control.
Even in the year since this blog post was first written, my boy has come so far and I am so grateful.
My heart hurts for all of the kids who grow up believing that they are “inherently bad” because they can’t seem to get it together.
Think about how many adults you know that live in the dire wake of growing up believing themselves as a disappointment to the adults around them.
We all know someone. And the truth is that that someone may just be us.
- I’m never enough.
- I’m always a disappointment.
- What’s wrong with me?
That someone may be in the grocery store right now standing by in horror. She is watching her child kick and scream because he wants candy.
She may be dripping with sweat and covered in shame as she navigates all the lies that tell her she is not enough.
I’ve been there. Have you? Are you there now?
Isn’t it enough already?
It’s ok to parent our kids differently, Sweet Momma. We can do this together.
Let’s change the narrative for our…
- sensory sensitive kids.
Friend, I am convinced that all moms need a parenting growth mindset. For the sake of our kids and our sanity, let’s be willing to at least examine it.