MELTDOWNS!: Don’t fix them or stop them!

I can’t even begin to tell you how many approaches to temper tantrums I’ve tried in the last 25 years. Some of them are down right embarrassing, so I’m hoping to help you avoid some of the many mistakes I’ve made. Here are my latest thoughts.
Between 2 and 4 years children NEED to separate from you, any adult, in order to form their own individuality. It is a matter of their survival.


Here’s what happens when you try to control, change or stop a melt down:

If you try to control or stop the tantrum, your clever child might stop for the moment, and then either resume shortly thereafter or store up how they feel about you. This usually looks like anger, frustration or disbelief at how incredibly foolish it is of you to do what you are doing. Yes, in some ways they ARE far more wise than we are. Worse yet, as a result of a couple of these experiences, your child will use these opportunities to show you just how much THEY are in charge. Such as cornering you to see if you are going to make good with your threats at the worst possible moments, like at a play date when your darling child (no, they never do this at home) has just yanked Little Johnny’s favorite truck out of his hand and now both of them are screaming OR at a restaurant with fellow patrons giving you “the look”. The pressure is on and it’s difficult not to revert to the old tried and true “I’ll make you stop” repertoire by offering any number of bribes, distractions, apologies, shushes, justifications and hopefully DEPARTURES!

Yes Folks, the best way to deal with a melt down in public is to, as graciously as possible, take your leave. Go outside, or to a private place, take a moment and allow your child to fully process their feelings by having a good cry, or biting a wash cloth, or scribbling, etc. Then see if reparations can be made to reenter the scene. Either way, go home and do something to help both of you calm down and feel better.
If you try to change the child’s experience by “fixing” it, your child will get the message that all they have to do is have a fit to get your attention, or that they can’t count on you to set boundaries and hence they feel unsafe or they figure out that they need something or someone outside themselves to “fix” how they feel.
There are long-range results to either approach: resentment, rebellion, retreat, revenge. They’ll save up the really good ways to torment you until their teens when they’ll act out with drugs, eating disorders, cigarettes, alcohol, sex, shop lifting, you name it. They can get pretty creative, especially in the attempt to move through their feelings in a continued attempt to repress how they feel. Which, by the way, we teach them when they are little and we get in the way or try to change what they are experiencing or how they are feeling.


Thankfully, it’s easier than you think. As a group of toddlers told me, “LEAVE US ALONE!! WE’LL COME TO YOU WHEN WE ARE READY!”

OK, OK!!! I get it! I hope you do too.

Make sure they are safe. Decide if you are going to stay close or leave. Tell them what you’re going to do and where they can find you when they are ready AT A NEUTRAL TIME.

Give yourself permission and actually do the self care to move through your own issues so that you can be truly present to facilitate their process. Ground yourself by journaling, screaming into a pillow, taking a shower, or whatever it takes... SO YOU CAN BE READY TO WELCOME YOUR CHILD WITH LOVE, COMPASSION AND UNDERSTANDING!