Most parents dread the meltdowns - whether it is a toddler or a teen - but what if you had a better understanding of what was happening and why? What if you knew that meltdowns could be used to help build a better relationship with your child?
First things first: Let's be clear, it is not just children and young people who have meltdowns. Adults have them too. Sometimes a lot.
And if this is happening in your home or school setting this is absolutely the place to start. It is interesting how stress makes us blind to what may seem, in hindsight, to be embarrassingly obvious, but the truth is that many children who are displaying challenging inflexible behaviour also have parents or teachers who are displaying challenging inflexible behaviour too. :(
So why do adults have meltdowns? Usually because it is all feeling too much - usually because we are getting frustrated that our child or someone else won't do things the way we want. Usually because we feel we have tried everything we knew to get our point across and it doesn't feel as if anyone is listening to us. Sometimes just because we feel a lot better when we have had a good rant or a good cry.
And children then? Why do they have meltdowns? Because it is feeling too much, because they are frustrated that others won't do what they want. Maybe they feel they have tried to express their feelings and views and no one seems to be listening? And sometimes it just feels a relief to have an explosion - whether with words, actions or tears.
So we find that there is a lot in common between children and adults. The only difference is that adults have more responsibility than children. Consequently, if we want to make a difference to the meltdowns, we have to look at our own behaviour and struggles first. We have to move away from thinking that 'he or she made me lose my cool or behave that way ' to 'what could I tell myself or do that would help me stay calmer even if the situation here is challenging?'
The good news is that if you just take this one step of taking personal responsibility (whether you are an adult or a young person), you will be well on the way to handling many situations with a great deal more success. It will feel a lot nicer and your children and others will find you easier to manage. You will be showing through your behaviour rather than with your words that big feelings can be managed, and that the whole situation around you is safer and more under control.
Now of course learning to do this usually takes a lot of practice, and once you have mastered this first step of self-care and self-regulation when under pressure, you may well want to learn some more. How for example do you help your child learn these skills? In fact, what skills are actually involved and how will you know if you are making progress?
In the I Matter Project we have an exciting set of resources to help you learn a lot about child development, brain development and the adult role. We believe that even if you are finding your parenting or caring role very challenging right now, anyone who is determined to learn can learn, and it is never too late. Furthermore when you begin to learn these skills, you will find that you can be much more effective in your role and much more able to help your child and others learn the skills that will help them become happier more confident young people and subsequent adults. Win-win.
Getting there however is going to involve a personal journey. We offer absolutely no quick fixes. You will have to try things out and practice. You may want to learn what to do straight away but the painful truth is you are probably going to have times when it all seems to be falling apart again. That is why in this project we have a direction of travel, but this goal does not require perfection of you or your child. You are allowed to be human and have struggles and so does your child. It will be through role modelling how to put things right and apologise when you realise you perhaps could have handled something differently that you will grow fastest.
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Copyright CBetoin2015 All Rights Reserved.
Dr Cathy Betoin
Clinical Psychologist, Teacher and Parent
I Matter Parent Blog
There is nothing more powerful than a parent who takes the trouble to care