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Stress. It’s that fearsome beast that rears its ugly head every now and then in your life. Sometimes, it spurs you on to greatness, as your body kicks into overdrive and you get that last bit of decorating finished or homework corrected. Other times, it hits you from all angles and totally beats you down until you’re a blubbering mess. Every now and then, it attacks your children. Handling a meltdown, either in yourself or a family member, is not always easy.
As a woman, I sometimes let things build up inside of me before I realize I’m overstressed. Lack of sleep, poor food choices, and “not getting my way” often add subtle stress to my body. Then, a crying child, an unexpectedly large utility bill, or a call from a pushy salesperson will knock me right over the edge. I still remember the day I didn’t handle it very well. My children were young — I think I only had three at the time, possibly four — and I just couldn’t cope anymore. So, rather than yell at my children, I walked out into the garage and screamed. When I came back in, the boys just looked at me quietly. My circumstances hadn’t changed, but I felt much better for letting off some steam.
Other times, the stress of being a young mother required a night out alone. After feeding my family, I would take a notebook and my Bible, hop into the car, and drive to the nearest Dairy Queen. After getting my favorite frozen treat, I would find a quiet place in a large parking lot and just sit and cry, eat, and jot notes.
And, still other times, rather than run away I settle into a favorite chair to read my Bible, or sit here at my computer to type out all my frustrations to a few close friends. The tears often fall as well, which is helpful. It’s okay to cry!
Family Member Meltdowns
As a mom, I’ve fielded many meltdowns. Often it’s the toddlers who succumb to stress, usually from being tired or hungry, and often when in a strange environment (like the checkout line at a store). Sometimes it’s older children, and the trigger is schoolwork or an unexpected activity interfering with personal plans.
Every now and then, we must deal with another adult having a meltdown; our spouse, another family member, or a friend. If this person is known to do this often, it’s easiest to be prepared. But, when it happens out of the blue, it can really throw you off track.
Handling a Meltdown
Whether it’s you, your child, or another adult who is having a meltdown, here are a few things you can do to nip it in the bud.
- If it’s You: Take time to cool off. Emotions–such as anger, frustration, fear–can cause us to say or do things we may regret. If you’re having the meltdown, step into another room for a few minutes if possible.
- If it’s a Child: Take a deep breath and calm yourself before approaching or speaking to the child. Try to get them to make eye contact and take them to a private place as soon as possible.
- If it’s Another Adult: Let them know you can’t talk to them when they are angry. Separate yourself from them before you do or say something you shouldn’t. If it’s a crying meltdown, you may not need to say anything — just be there for them if they need a hug.
Look for Reasons
- If it’s You: What triggered this? Often it’s a feeling of being out of control. Is it really the spilled milk, or are you thinking of an unresolved situation with a loved one? What were you thinking of just before the tears or anger started? Do you feel tired or hungry?
- If it’s a Child: Do they seem hungry, tired, cold or hot? Is the school work they’re doing too hard? Does it make them feel confused or stupid?
- If it’s Another Adult: What’s happening in their life that could have triggered this? Job or relationship stress? Medical or medication issues? Lack of sleep?
- If it’s You: After you’ve stepped back and figured out what triggered the episode, find a way to change your mindset. Can you do something different with your children to avoid the triggers? Instead of waiting for that phone call, can you make the first move? Can you call a friend to take your kids for an hour so you can nap, or clean, or run errands alone?
- If it’s a Child: Is there a different way to approach that school subject? Can they work on the computer or a whiteboard instead of on paper? Do you need to find a curriculum that matches their learning style better? Would tutoring be beneficial? If it’s a small child, can you feed them or put them down for a nap early?
- If it’s Another Adult: If the meltdown is due to medication, can it be adjusted, or even switched? Would it be better to take the person home? Can you schedule a time to talk later, when you’ve both calmed down?
- If it’s You: Assess your situation and decide what you can and can’t change. Accept what you can’t change and find a way to work with it or around it. Once you stop trying to change something you have no control over, you can focus more of your energy on changeable things.
- If it’s a Child: If the meltdown is over a class or subject, is it really needed? Pick your battles! If they have a meltdown everytime they don’t like a class, you may need to put your foot down. There will be some classes they don’t like, but they need them (like math, science, writing, etc). Make sure your child knows which battles they cannot win. Do not let them think a meltdown will get them what they want–stand firm.
- If it’s Another Adult: Do not get into a yelling match. Let this person know that you will be glad to discuss things when you are both calm. If the meltdown is caused by a stressful day at work, discuss possible ways to work around the trigger. A different route home from work, or finding a different lunch spot, or changing break times may be all that’s needed to reduce stress.
Who is the Enemy?
- If it’s You: Your children are not your enemy. Even if they’ve been pushing your buttons all day, they are not the enemy. Are you really mad at a person, or just a situation? Tell your family when you feel stressed-out. They may have a solution to your problem!
- If it’s a Child: Make sure they know how much you love them. Remind them you are not only the teacher but also the parent. If they are fretting over a lesson, point out all they’ve learned so far. Point out all the successes they’ve had already. They are not their own enemy–their brain is not the enemy. Don’t let them lash out at you or at themselves.
- If it’s Another Adult: Point out that you are not the bad guy. You are on the same team and want to help them. Remind them of all you’ve been through together so far. You are not the enemy.
What’s Your Strategy?
Take time to step back and assess the situation. Look for the real reason behind the meltdown and find an alternative to whatever triggered it. Accept the things you can’t change, and remember that most of the time people are not the enemy (it’s usually a situation you have no control over that is the enemy).
When stress overtakes you, how do you handle it? How do you calm a child throwing a tantrum? What are some ways you deal with adults who become angry or emotional? Handling a meltdown is never something we look forward to, but diffusing it quickly and calmly is the key. Leave a comment and start the conversation!