elevating child care

Tantrums and Meltdowns – My Secret For Staying Calm When My Kids Aren’t

I’ve hesitated to share this secret because I worry it seems silly.  Then it occurred to me that if I’m really striving to provide a complete parenting “toolbox” on this blog, I can’t not include a practice, however inane, that has been essential to my own sanity and to raising three kids who are healthier and better adjusted than I could ever have hoped.

I’m the kind of person who absorbs and is affected by everyone’s feelings. But I also know that staying calm and centered in the face of even the darkest of my children’s emotions is imperative to their well-being. My boat is easily rocked, and when that happens I can lose perspective, and rather than giving my kids the solid support for their feelings or the behavior limits they need during a tantrum, I can end up losing patience, melting, second-guessing myself, getting mad or frustrated, yelling, doing things that not only don’t work, but also create problems that make matters worse.

When we lose our cool most of what we say or do is completely lost on our children. All they learn when we’re flailing is that they have the power to hurt us or ignite our rage, which unsettles them, creates an unsafe atmosphere, and usually causes them to repeat their difficult behaviors until or unless we find some control.

Or perhaps we say things like, “You’re hurting my feelings!”  Our vulnerability creates guilt and insecurity, burdening children with an inordinate amount of power and leaving them bereft of the confident, gentle leadership they desperately need.

But we’re human. We’re never going to like it when our kids are upset, and we’re going to lose our cool sometimes — more than sometimes during the toddler years.  How can we control our feelings and responses?

I appreciate the wonderful suggestions offered by parenting bloggers and advisers for helping parents temper their emotional reactions — healthy things to do instead of yelling or spanking when we’re triggered. A few of my favorites are breathe, call a friend, do jumping jacks and eat dark chocolate (preferably all at once). But in the frenzy of a difficult moment, I know I need something more immediate, powerful and proactive.

So when my kids are angry, sad, frustrated, winding up or melting down, I imagine myself donning a superhero suit equipped with a protective shield that deflects even the fiercest, most irritating emotional outbursts. It makes me feel confident and capable and inspires me to rise above the fray.  Just reaching for my superhero suit helps me to take a step out of myself and gain a clearer perspective.  I realize:

This is a VIPM (very important parenting moment). Releasing these feelings is so good for my child. This explosion will clear the air and lift my child’s spirits.  Staying present and calm, sticking with whatever limits I’ve set and being a safe channel for these emotions is the very best thing I could ever do.

Some of the superhuman parenting powers my suit provides:

1. I understand that difficult behavior is a request for help — the best my child can do in that particular moment.

2. I remember to acknowledge my child’s feelings and point of view. The importance of this can’t be overemphasized.

3. I have the confidence to set and hold limits early (before I get annoyed or resentful) and do so calmly, directly, honestly, non-punitively.

4. I know that my words are often not enough – I must follow through by intervening to help my child stop the behavior.

5. I’m not afraid of what others think when I need to pick up and carry my crying, screaming child out of a problematic situation. My child comes first.

6. I have the courage to allow feelings to run their full course, without trying to calm, rush, fix, shush or talk my child out of them.  I might say, “You have some very strong feelings about that” rather than yelling “enough!”

7. I move on without the slightest resentment, once my child’s storm has passed.

8. Rather than feeling angry, guilty or dejected for the rest of the day, I hold my head high and congratulate myself for being an awesome, heroic parent.

Occasionally (though it’s pretty rare) my superhero perspective even allows me to recognize the romance in these moments. I’m able to time travel at hyper-speed into the future, look back and realize that this was prime time together.  It didn’t look pretty, but we were close. I’ll remember how hard it was to love my child when she was at her very worst and feel super proud that I did it anyway.

 

 I offer a complete guide to gentle leadership in my new book:

NO BAD KIDS: Toddler Discipline Without Shame

Recommended resources:

When Mama Has A Bad Day and For The Love Of A Tantrum by Darci L. Walker, Psy.D., Core Parenting

Losing Control by Vanessa Kohlhaas, Deep Breath Of Parenting

101 Things To Do Instead Of Yelling Or Spanking by Dionna Ford, Code Name Mama

Help! My Daughter Is Out Of Control by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby

I Don’t Want Your Hugs by Emily Plank, Abundant Life Children

 

(Photo by TheodoreWLee on Flickr)

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102 Responses to “Tantrums and Meltdowns – My Secret For Staying Calm When My Kids Aren’t”

  1. avatar Kara says:

    Just today as I was waiting at my daughter’s school to pick her up, I thought (not for the first time), “The preschool teachers here sure yell a lot.” At her previous preschool, the teacher had a wisened, experienced calm in the face of any challenges and I can’t picture her ever raising her voice. Here, I wonder if the teachers sort of feed off of each other and have collectively accepted that raising your voice is necessary…apparently even to command a class of all 3 year olds to pick up. It saddens me, honestly. I feel like I need to do or say something about it, but I don’t know what to do or say.

    • avatar janet says:

      Kara, that saddens me, too. I’m just going to say it… It’s totally inappropriate for teachers, especially preschool teachers to yell. That is a sign of extreme inexperience and unprofessionalism, in my opinion. You have every right to complain about this, Kara.

      • avatar Kara says:

        Thanks for your reply, Janet. Reflecting more on it and hearing your opinion prompted me to e-mail the Principal to request a meeting. However, I would rather bring her a solution than a problem, and I’m still at a loss as to what that solution might be. Have you read any good books about communicating with children that might help elucidate the potential harm of such an approach?

        • avatar janet says:

          Great, Kara. Please keep me posted.

          I can’t think of a particular book, but I’ll keep thinking. It’s just so obvious to me that the younger the children, the more vital it is for them to have a safe atmosphere… and yelling cannot be a part of that. Yelling is intensely unnerving for me…and children are far more sensitive!

        • avatar Kelly says:

          I just read a book about communicating with kids in an educational environment. A lot of it was geared toward teachers of older kids, but there were ideas that can be used for all ages. It is How to Talk So Kids Can Learn. That might be someplace to start – it gives great ideas and examples of how to talk to kids in a positive and encouraging way.
          http://www.barnesandnoble.com/listing/2686988493942?cm_mmc=GooglePLA-_-Book-_-Q000000633-_-2686988493942&cm_mmca2=pla&r=1

          • avatar Kara says:

            I’ve read Faber’s How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and I like that she uses actual snippets of conversations to show the contrast. That’s what I was hoping to find. Thanks for the recommendation!

            • avatar Arwen Kuttner says:

              Fabulous book.

      • avatar Faigie says:

        Hi,
        There is a great book that helped me enormously when my kids were little called Setting Limits by Robert Mackenzie. My sister who is a pre school teacher along with her husband who is a jr high school teacher both read Mackenzies Setting Limits in the Classroom and both thought it was excellent at both preschool and jr high level. If its anything like the one that was my bible maybe they’ll read it

        • avatar janet says:

          Thanks for the recommendation, Faigie!

        • avatar Kara says:

          It has rave reviews — I’m going to pick up a copy. Thanks for the recommendation!

      • avatar Wendy says:

        Janet, I just wanted to chime in to say we had a similar experience. After sharing our concerns with the preschool director, several times, we saw no improvement. We came to realize, sadly, that yelling was the accepted culture and we were not going to be able to change it unless the person at the top was on board with a more respectful communication model. In the end we voted with our dollars and terminated our enrollment. I hope you have a more positive experience that resolves well.

      • avatar Arwen Kuttner says:

        I’ll be honest… I’m a teacher and I used to yell a lot too. It was out of my control and would come out of me before i could stop it. It took a number of years and a lot of self-reflection to help me understand why and to curb it. I’m proud to say that now I have a reputation for being one of the most patient teachers in the school and im looking for ways tontech what ive learned to others. Of course, then I became a parent and have had to learn the same tools at home.

        For me some of the keys are:

        – making sure my own needs are met. I still know I can lose it if I’m hungry, in particular
        – becoming self-reflective of outside pressures pushing me out of my ideal state of mind. Primarily, I often lose my patience if I feel that an adminstrator wants me to spend more time on x instead of y and so I’m rushing students through things that they need more time to experience. Likewise, if I’m running late I tend to lose my calm because I’m worried what someone else will think of our punctuality, at home or at school. I have to sometimes just take a breath and accept lateness.
        – realizing I will no longer be able to guide the children once I’ve yelled. It changes too much of the mood for me to be effective anymore.
        – learning it’s not about me. If children do things I don’t like, it’s not a personal attack I need to defend.
        – finally, my 6 year old daughter has taught me very profoundly what she needs from me when she’s upset. A difficult time for us each day is during piano practice. She sometimes gets angry and rude towards me and sometimes even yells at me. In the past I’vesaid that I will have to leave the room if this is how she we act towards me. But once when I prepared to do that she ran to me desperately afraid for me to leave. We talked it through and she was able to tell me that when she is upset she doesn’t want me to do anything to help her but she doesn’t want me to leave either. We spoke about appropriate ways for her to express her frustration without verbally attacking me. Now, recently, it happened again that she came to a part of the music that was very challenging. I tried to help. She got angry and began to pound the keyboard and scream at the top if her lungs, but she didn’t direct it at me. I very quietly stood and waited it out as if it were a storm. On her own she calmed down. I asked if she felt better now and then she voluntarily tried the music passage again, felt better about it and walked away happy. I didn’t make her do anything. She wanted me to be the anchor for her ship at sea just by being present and non-judgmental. I’m glad I could be there to validate her frustration and anger and I’m fortunate I got to see her reaction afterwards instead of wondering if I’d made the right call.

        In any case, if you have teachers in your life that yell, it can be heartbreaking. Just consider that they may not have the tools they need yet. Judging them too quickly will not help them change. That said, it takes a special situation for you or anyone else to lovingly guide them towards more appropriate behavior. Very tough thing to face for you and for them.

        • avatar KC says:

          Wow, Arwen, that was great, esp. about your daughter just wanting you as an anchor. Will remember this next time my 23 month old acts up. I too usually leave the room to cool down but she gets so upset and it makes it worse.

    • avatar Adele says:

      Just want to put it out there for Moms considering schools that respecting the child is a big part of the Montessori philosophy, you won’t find yelling teachers in a Montessori classroom…

  2. avatar Melissa says:

    Silly or not, I love this, and it’s exactly the sort of tool I need at this stage with my oldest. I’m going to copy down the bit about VIPMs and stick it in my back pocket for tomorrow! Thanks for this, Janet.

    • avatar janet says:

      Thanks, Melissa! This imagery and perspective has been a lifesaver for me…

    • avatar Jen says:

      Exactly what I need, too! I often do just as described- lose it- make things worse and then feel guilty and horrible the rest of the day. My 3.5 year old twins (and their 6 year old brother hehe) will benefit if I am superheroic 😉

  3. avatar Ali says:

    Wow… thank you so very very much. I am an emotional sponge too, and my child has had a few massive meltdowns this week. It’s been so hard to support and listen through it. This article is exactly what I needed to read this week. I can’t thank you enough

  4. I agree with most of what you’re saying, but I think that it is possible to yell briefly as a “reset”. Some meltdowns leave the child almost totally desensitized, so if you want to intervene then you need to “reset” the child. But I do agree that you can’t communicate by yelling. And yelling should certainly not be the default strategy. Wrote about it a couple months ago: http://www.perfectingparenthood.com/content/bad-advice-youve-probably-read-tantrums-and-meltdowns. Some comments I got were about tantrums were that some kids are pre-disposed to tantrums. I think you can teach the child alternatives rather that resign yourself to simply having a child with a tantrum personality. What do you think?

    I really agree that parents should understand that a tantrum is the child’s best idea at the time. Very nice

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Alex! Hmmm… I don’t see any positives to yelling at kids, although I realize it happens. And I don’t know what you mean by “resetting” children… When children feel perfectly free to express their feelings, they “reset” naturally.

      Regarding “tantrum personalities”, I’m not buying it. Yes, there are intense personalities more prone to explosions, but if tantrums are happening on a daily basis for an extended period of time, the parents need to figure out why their child is so stressed.

      • avatar Kay says:

        I’m thinking right now about this, do you think all yelling is created equal? I mean I’ve yelled at my daughter and am not proud of it at all because I felt it came out because I was losing control and getting all emotional.

        BUT sometimes, I “yell” by speaking in a loud authoritative voice (kind of bossy) just to get her attention.

        • avatar janet says:

          I imagine the “calm” way of yelling is less jarring for kids, but personally, I don’t think yelling is helpful to creating the kind of atmosphere or relationship that most of us want…

  5. avatar Meagan says:

    I’m not sure I’ve let my son’s emotions “run their course”… I’m not sure I know HOW. He’s 1 and a half… When he starts getting upset he just keeps getting more and more upset the longer I let him go. I try to acknowledge his feelings but generally he just get more irate that I’m not doing whatever it is he wants me to do, or letting him do what he wants to do, or giving him what he wants. I try not to distract him, but I usually end up suggesting, “you seem tired, is it time for a nap?” Or hungry, or whatever. I’m not even sure that is distracting him, since it does tend to happen more (obviously) when he’s tired, or hungry, or before a transition.

    • avatar Brigitte says:

      This is a question that has occurred to me too! (My daughter is the same age as your son.) On the one hand, I like to acknowledge the immediate feelings (“You are upset because I wouldn’t let you throw the book in the toilet.”), but on the other hand I like to address the root cause of the misbehaviour (“You are upset and hungry. Would you like to eat an apple?”).

      My gut feeling is that after spending a certain amount of time with the immediate feelings, it would be appropriate to turn toward the underlying cause. This is similar to the way that I usually begin with simply holding my daughter’s hands to stop an inappropriate behaviour, but if she still can’t stop herself, I will escalate my intervention to pick her up and remove her from the situation entirely. I think as long as we do begin with addressing the immediate feelings, it’s also good to notice when the child may need a bigger intervention to help them.

    • avatar janet says:

      Meagan, certainly if the child has a basic need like FOOD there is something we can do to help and, of course, we should! What usually happens when you suggest food or a nap?

      • avatar Meagan says:

        He pretty much switches gears immediately… Starts heading for the other room for a diaper change if I say nap… Makes the “more” signal (really his universal FEED ME sign) if I asked him about a snack. However he’ll pretty much eat any time you offer, so I’m not sure that actually means he was hungry. I think maybe he is just sensitive to transitions? Most of his meltdowns do seem to happen before a schedule shift, even if it’s not something (like hunger) that I would expect to make him cranky.

        • avatar janet says:

          Most toddlers are extremely sensitive to transitions. Allowing him his meltdown will actually help him to sleep better. It’s a little hard for me to tell if your offering of food is a distraction or filling his need…

          • avatar Meagan says:

            It’s hard for me to tell too! 🙂 He’s (I hope) starting a Montessori toddler program in January, and while we are on a relatively consistent schedule now, I think that will help me be more consistant about meal and snack times, which should help me tell if he’s actually hungry. I certainly don’t want to get into the habit of food as a distraction.

  6. avatar AnaOli says:

    I feel the same way Meagan stated. How can they hear us when they are so focused on not getting their way? I’d love a video example so I can see how to communicate during an episode. Because I also feel I am not doing it right.

    • avatar janet says:

      Ana, it’s not about them hearing us while they are melting down… The acknowledgements I strongly recommend can come afterward. Recent studies have shown that talking to children while they are in the middle of a tantrum is unhelpful and actually prolongs the outburst. These tantrums have a natural end…It’s not up to us to try to end them! And our attempts to do so usually make matters worse.

      • avatar Meagan says:

        So what DO you do during a tantrum? Watch like the girl in The Little Princess? Narrate?

        • avatar janet says:

          Meagan, just wait and allow, don’t do. Dr. Melissa offers a great example in this new post: http://www.confessionsofadrmom.com/2012/11/the-secret-hideout-or-why-you-should-stay-close-when-your-child-has-a-meltdown/

          • avatar Sarah says:

            During this “wait and allow” time, my almost-3-year-old son will often engage in a tantrum that includes either hitting me (which I usually try to intercept, saying, “I won’t allow you to hit me.) or destructive actions, like taking things off shelves, bed, or whatever is in reach and throwing them. Not just once but over and over until there is a huge mess. Often, this type of thing happens in the morning while we are getting ready for work and school. Is that the kind of out of control behavior that requires me to step and hold him (which he hates, and seems to initially get even more angry). The whole episode seems to take up to a half an hour, which I don’t have time for in the morning. Please let me know what I’m missing.

      • avatar Deb says:

        Thanks for your books and website, Janet. I have found your advice invaluable with my almost 3 yo. I will try to implement your suggestion above about not saying too much during the tantrum, as I have been feeling as though my words of acknowledgement have made my son angrier and have prolonged his meltdown. I wasn’t sure if I wasn’t getting the tone right, and was unintentionally communicating that I needed him to stop, as I find waiting out the meltdowns extremely difficult. Perhaps this is the case, but I feel I also say too much, so will try to simplify. But I want to make sure he knows I am there for him. What is the right balance?

        Thanks, Deb

  7. avatar Jess says:

    I love this, thank you so much for sharing! Reminds me of Larry Cohen’s trick of “going to the power room”, which a girl he was doing play therapy with taught him. Same concept. Also, reading the Positive Discipline books I learned about “acting like a CEO”, that is, not taking it personally, remaining calm and willing to help your child get through the storm, instead of losing it and getting emotionally wrecked.
    I struggle, like any parent, but it is so good to read things like this and be reminded of what I CAN do in those difficult moments. Thanks again!

  8. avatar AnaOli says:

    So I should just acknowledge her feelings & situation and not try to reason with her to understand why she is not getting her way? Sorry but this had been nagging at me & I had been meaning to get in touch with you to get further insight. I hope it’s ok to discuss this here.

    • avatar janet says:

      Ana, I’m so glad you are bringing this up here…thank you. NO, definitely don’t try to reason with her when she’s upset. Reasoning with her is trying to talk her out of her feelings. Honestly, isn’t that what we’re hoping for when we reason with our kids in these situations? That we’ll calm them down? Instead, LET GO and let your daughter express her anger, disappointment, sadness, whatever, and it will pass in a healthy manner.

      I just experienced this with my son so it’s fresh in my mind. Whatever I’m writing about always ends up happening in my real life! (But that’s another story). So, my 11-year-old son has two important things that got scheduled for the same day. One is a very close friend’s birthday party centered around an activity that’s going to be extremely fun. He’d told his friend that he was going to be there. The other is soccer playoffs for a team that he’s not totally committed to, but his participation will very likely decide whether they win or not. The team definitely needs him. Plus, soccer is his joy, especially when he gets to be a hero.

      He’s been feeling very anxious and unable to decide what to do, but it was coming down to the crunch…he had to make up his mind. I offered to call up the mother of the birthday boy to let her know about the difficult decision. He liked that idea. She was lovely. She said she would get the boys together for dinner to celebrate the day before his party and that it would be fine. Seemed like the problem was solved…a happy ending! But my boy was still upset. He started crying. Here are the thoughts that ran through my mind:

      What the heck, I just made the call for you and everything’s fine (REASONING)! Oh, he must have some feelings that need to come out. Probably all the stress building up about this for the last week. He’s tired — first day back at school after Thanksgiving break and he hasn’t done his homework yet (THIS IS ON THE RIGHT TRACK). But this is so unfair to me! I made the call (AS IF IT’S ABOUT ME)! I’ve handled this for him! I fixed it! But he probably also needs to grieve the loss of the party he really wanted to go to (YES!). Stay in hero mode. Stay in hero mode. Stay in hero mode. You just wrote about this, idiot!

      Here’s what I said to him softly in between sobs: “Just let your feelings out. You really wanted to go the party.”

      He stopped crying after about 2 or 3 long minutes. He still wasn’t feeling super duper, but he got out his books and started with his homework. About 20 minutes later he suddenly announced, “I’ve decided I’m going to the games”, and he’s been fine ever since.

      • avatar Nina says:

        Thank you for sharing your experience, Janet! Now I know, that sometimes I’m doing it right 🙂 I will be keep trying!

  9. avatar Monica says:

    This is a great post Janet and I am definitely going to use your super hero advice. Can I pick your brain about what you would do if the child during the tantrum started asking you lots of questions please, I am thinking here of an older child like your example with your son. Also, what would you advise if the child did not comply with the limit you set (your point number 3), for instance: no, you cannot play footfball later because you need to do your homework after school… And off he goes anyway! Thanks!

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Monica! Hmmm…not sure what you mean by lots of questions. Can you be specific? Regarding football after school… My son needs to get his “ya yas” out when he gets home from school. He literally can’t sleep unless he gets a lot of exercise, so I would let him play before homework. But if you have a different rule, STOP him without getting mad. “Ah, ah, ah, buddy, not until your homework’s done.” Take the ball if you have to and tell him he can play just as soon as he’s done. Try to stay relaxed and upbeat so he doesn’t get defensive.

  10. Oh, gosh, Janet, how I’ve missed reading your posts! This is a definite keeper. I’m going to reflect deeply on what my superhero costume looks like and what it can do for me. Thank you so much for sharing this. So brave and real!

    • avatar janet says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Sylvia. It’s great to hear from you!

  11. avatar Heather says:

    I found this post so interesting because i have come to realise that this is exactly what my four year old son does when he’s had a bad time in the playground at school! He puts on his superman costume when he gets home or at the weekend and recharges himself with power and confidence. I’d never thought of trying it for myself.

  12. I love this yes! This true for any child at any age right?

    Loren

    • avatar janet says:

      YES, absolutely… In fact, this is the way I handle any situation where I have to be “strong” for someone (events toward the end of my mother’s life come to mind). Hi Loren!

  13. This is such great advice thank you- will definitely be trying this out!!

  14. avatar Melani says:

    What a great post, Janet! I really appreciate the imagery of a superhero suit! I always try to keep in mind that I can have my reaction later and try to simply stay in the moment with the child…just reminding myself that I can vent later is usually enough to help keep me in check! What also helps is remembering a little tidbit I came across a while ago: when children are presented with highly stressful situations, their brains shift into “fight or flight” mode…adrenaline kicks in and learning actually stops! So if my goal is for a child to learn to stop a frustrating behavior, yelling at them is actually counter-productive!

  15. avatar Alivia says:

    I am having an issue with my son. He is almost two. He has purposefully broken a couple dishes, and I don’t know how to get across to him that this isn’t okay without showing/telling him that it makes me mad/sad. What would you suggest?

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Alivia I suggest not giving him free access to breakable dishes and possibly switching to something safer for his meals. Also, being fully attentive to him while he is eating. It would help me to know how this is happening, Alivia.

  16. avatar Michaela E says:

    Hi Janet! I was just turned onto your Facebook page and website. Your insights into toddlers is just invaluable. I was hoping to get some advice. I’m struggling with two behaviors in my 22 month old son. One is when he is upset he will seek my husband and I and our little dogs out and hit us. He will walk across the room just to hit one of us. We say things to him such as “we do not hit. Hitting hurts us and makes us sad.” Then we have him tell us (or the dogs) he’s sorry, which he signs and says. I’m more worried about him hitting the dogs. They’re rescues and a bit jumpy. I don’t want him to get bit. The other behavior is when he’s having a rough time he’ll become defiant and perseverate on something he shouldn’t do. For example, he will start pulling the ornament balls off the tree and throw them. I tried thinking, “what would Janet do?” So I explained to him that we do not throw ornaments but he CAN throw his ball and have him his bouncy ball. He did ok with that but then went back to the tree and started pulling them off again. I guess I’m just stuck ok what I should do next. Thank you!

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Michaela! He needs you to calmly stop him…physically prevent him from hitting your or the dogs and throwing unsafe objects. It is not enough to tell him “we don’t hit” and I strongly believe in saying “I won’t let you…” or “I don’t want you to…” rather than “we don’t”. “We don’t” is not clear, direct and specific enough for toddlers. Preventing him might mean gating a safe play area for him and then monitoring him closely when he’s not in that room. It might also mean anticipating this behavior when he’s upset so that you can stop him in his tracks. He needs your leadership. Saying “makes us sad” is disconcerting to children (and creates guilt)…because it gives them too much power when what they need is a confident leader. All he needs is to know you have these situations under calm control. Also, encourage the feelings he has when he’s upset by acknowledging, “you’re upset because…. That’s totally understandable, but I won’t let you hit the dogs”.

      • avatar Michaela E says:

        Thank you Janet, we’ll implement that today.

  17. avatar Michaela E says:

    Wow Janet, thank you for the advice. It worked incredibly well. We were more firm with him, held down his hand and told him we would not let him hit. He went from a total meltdown to playing on his own within seconds. Our sanity THANKS YOU! 🙂

  18. thanks for this post! #6,7, and 8 have completely changed the way i parent, (and also have helped with my adult relationships, too!)

    also, sisi ends up being in a wonderful mood and quite cheerful for the rest of the day after she has a great big tantrum. it’s so important to let her go through the entire tantrum from start to finish, and let her resolve her feelings and move on. i’m learning a lot from her 🙂

  19. avatar Kate says:

    Love your methods! I do something similar but I’m a Zen monk in an orange robe.

  20. avatar Pamela says:

    I decided to print your tools (or superpowers) and now have them posted on my fridge. I read it when we start the day and it helps me remember to call on these tools when I need them. It’s helped us have a wonderful and peaceful week!
    Now if I could tattoo them to my arm…Thanks, as always!!

    • avatar janet says:

      Oh, thanks, Pamela! I love it! And you’re so welcome.

  21. avatar Csl says:

    Thank you all for your helpful information. I have a 2yr old strong willed daughter who occasionally has meltdowns due to transitions and/or being tired. We try to talk her down, take her to a quiet place, sit with her, hold her, but I think it makes it worse. Should we just stop what we’re doing, acknowledge “I know you want to keep playing, but it’s time to take a bath” and then just sit there? She wants to do everything herself, so we give her choices, and options, but she just keeps saying “I do it myself” without actually doing it. I stay calm and explain to her that she has a choice, to do it herself or I can do it for her. I usually end up doing it for her, which only makes her more upset. Do we let the trantrum/crying over “it’s time to take a bath” subside, then try and get her undressed to actually get IN the bath? In the past it seems to have prolonged the process (taking clothes off just becomes a fight.) We give her choices as often as we can because she’s very independent. But, the transitions are really difficult for her.

    Thanks!

    • avatar Alexa says:

      On paper everything makes sense but actually putting these strategies to use effectively is really tough for me. My 2.5 yr old is incredibly good at stalling, even when I do remain calm. Naptime and bedtime have become really challenging. I have the same issues as csl: I acknowledge that she doesn’t want to go to bed, and say I understand, but that she is going to bed because it is my job to make sure she gets the rest she needs. . . then what? Because she is really good at walking the line between tantrum and manipulation. Lately she avoids the moment where I leave the room by continually changing her mind about where her blankets should go. She will say she wants her quilt underneath her and get all tucked in then flail and cry about her quilt needing to be on top, then switch back and forth. how do I let her feelings run their course when she keeps switching tactics?

  22. avatar Csl says:

    Having a set routine for our daughter is really important as well, and the holidays, while fun, have been a little rough. I have found myself repeating a lot this past week. We continually remind her of what is happening next, to help with the next transition. “When we get home we are going to eat lunch, go potty, and take a nap.” After walking in the door, “Would you like peas or carrots with your lunch?” While sitting at the table, “After we take our plates to the sink, we’re going to go potty and take a nap.” Are the constant reminders helpful and necessary? She is very good at stalling during meals and is quite the negotiator when she wants to be. I have found myself giving in when she asks to play longer, but once I’ve given in and said “2 more minutes” or “2 more times” I stick to that, and then a tantrum begins because of the transition.

  23. avatar Malissa says:

    Thank you Janet. I just found your blog and I am loving what I’m reading. To me this is a confirmation that I’m doing a good job so far with my toddler. And of course there is more to work on. Especially when it comes to letting my toddler express himself to the fullest when he has a tantrum or down moment, instead of trying to ‘fix’ it! I hope I’m not too late and that there is still time for him to express fully, that I haven’t ruined it for him!!! Tomorrow will be a new day of no ‘fixing’! Looking forward to it and hoping it will work.

    • avatar janet says:

      Malissa, thank you and yes, there is definitely still time! Please let me know how this “adjustment” goes.

      • avatar Malissa says:

        Well the adjustment went very well. I notice he feels a lot better when he can out himself the way he feels. Since this post, I have been reading more of your blogs and I’ve just received in the mail, ” Your Self-Confident Baby” … I’m looking forward to reading it. Even though my boy is almost 2, I feel its so important to read this book. I think any parent can use this with their child at any age. And as stated by others, this approach also helps me learn. It is strengthening for my base. I still have a hard time fully taking good care of myself, but that is getting ‘easier’! It makes a world of difference when you love yourself too!

        I am struggling with one thing at the moment:

        When I say to my toddler during diaper changing and sleep times, ” would you like to do this yourself, or would you like me to help you?” He is flipping answers very fast. ” do it self” , ” help”. And he will say this for almost 3 minutes or longer. I then step in and say, ” okay I feel its best if I help you now because you seem unsure, and it is now time for bed”. His reply is a snappy , ” SssssssssttoooooP!” Then I say, ” okay, you would like to do it yourself then?”.

        And then the whole scenario starts to repeat itself and finally I step in and tell him that I am going to help him. He is resisting, yet I continue with for instance the diaper change or getting him into his bed/sleeping sack. Which feels like I’m forcing him. Which kinda is… He is fine a couple minutes after though.

        What bothers me is that I feel like I should let him do it, , yet he will stall out the activity for as long as possible , even walking away and playing with his toys.

        So then something in me says that I need to take control of the issue before I go over my boundaries.

        And these activities don’t need to be done ‘ a la minuut ‘. Yet I do feel that one hour or more is enough time before bed.
        And as for diaper changing, sometimes , the poo diaper needs to be changed within a reasonable amount of time!!!!

        The are other random times when he tells me to stop. And that always happens when I tell him that I’m going to help him.

        Maybe I’m trying to get it done too fast or not seeing something clearly?

      • avatar Malissa says:

        Oh, by the way, I am so Thankful to have found this blog! It is helping me so much. Also seeing other parents that struggle with the same things…. Helps me deal with the guilt that I feel at times.

  24. avatar Sarah says:

    Janet, I absolutely love your blog (& am a compulsive checker of your fb page also!). your advice and suggestions fill me with hope and excitement as well as tools to move forward.
    I have to admit though that I am really struggling with my son who is 3yrs 9months. he has always been prone to tantrums or strong expressions of his emotions (i.e. he arrived in the world screaming, would start crying for a feed before waking as a baby and this has continued!). that is all fine with me – that is his personality & I recognise the flipside is

  25. avatar Sarah says:

    sorry – hit publish too soon! but the fipside is a very loving person.i recognise that me losing my cool is about my coping techniques and I need to keep working on this. the thing that worrirs me is that he often hits or scratches when he is upset. actually he will hit at other children at pre-school also (he just started about 6 weeks ago). I try using techniques such as saying I won’t let him hit and sometime have to hold his hands but overall the behaviour isn’t really going. I’m not sure how long I should reasonably expect this to last? he also seems to enjoy rough play but many other children don’t but he doesn’t seem to understand this. his pre-school seems great so far but I worry that he will be labelled as too rough etc. do you have any other suggestions for me to help him? I feel that maybe his language isn’t as advanced as many other children his age so some of his behaviour is frustration at not being able to communicate. I feel like I am failing him right now.

  26. avatar Lina says:

    I love it! How we frame the situations we in is everything. I don’t think it’s silly at all.. I think it’s a very wise way to draw on strength. It’s a reminder that we have a choice in how we react to situations and why shouldn’t we have some super power fun in the process! I’m using this for sure!! 🙂

    • avatar janet says:

      Great, Lina! I think it’s especially important for parents to feel proud of themselves for the way they handle these difficult experiences. It’s so easy to let our child’s explosions ruin our day…

  27. avatar Bonnie says:

    Love this! I use the same type if imagery 🙂 The kids that I care for and I love our super hero capes as well. I am not sure if it fits in with your example, but one thing we are all aware of…if we hurt someone while in our super hero mode/mood we break our force field and lose our super hero powers 🙁 Always nice to keep our power (or feel empowered)! lol

  28. Thanks for this, I am a mother of teenager and a 21 year old which have different challenges, guiding my boys and keeping my sanity is mostly because of the skills you list and are priceless for our close loving relationship.

    I am also a Montessori teacher and yelling at Kids is NEVER an option. If you see and hear it you need to address it. Adults do not like to be yelled at the same goes for children.

  29. avatar Ritu says:

    Thank you so much for this Janet. I look for advice here every time I feel lost as a parent. My 2 year old is going through major transition with moving to new country, starting nursery, and we expecting another baby in three months time. She is lovely bright girl but going through stages where she refuses to nap or sleep and testing my patience with everything. I felt like a failure today but reading superwoman suit and VIPM made me feel much better…I shall think of see immediately next time. Also, I love the mention of releasing our emotions by replying on breathing, calling friends or eating chocolate as I try to be too hard on myself at times :(

    Thank you again for everything. Lov xx

  30. avatar Brady says:

    Just wanted to say that my wife and I love the super suit with shield mental construct. Our shields turn on by pushing a button on our wristwatches. It’s become a non-verbal reminder we can give each other if we think the other needs it. Thanks for sharing the idea!

  31. avatar Amber says:

    I found your blog awhile ago and have really enjoyed it. I have conflicting feelings when my son (2 yrs) has a meltdown. when he gets mad he bites things. usually not it’s but the baby gate, fridge handle, coffee table. he will bite down hard and just scream and cry. sometimes he draws blood from his lips. how do I handle this? I feel like i have to intervene and redirect so he’ll stop doing it. how do I let him express his feelings but get him to stop biting?

  32. avatar Kimberly says:

    Hi Janet,

    I love this idea! I do follow the overall philosophy of REI, however over the past week have been having a consistent issue with my 20 month old son. We have a childproof play space, and he loves it (as does his 5 year old sister). Spring break ended a week ago for my daughter, and since she has gone back to school he does not want to be alone in the playroom. This leads to issues with me getting anything done (shower, clean, laundry etc) without him screaming and crying. I do tell him what I am going to do, and then when done come in and calmly sportscast his feelings. I did say yesterday “You are missing Evie and are sad to be alone.” And he said “yes”. The problem is he figured out how to move toys so he could get over the baby gate and so today I left him in his crib to shower and he screamed there. I am not sure how long I should expect him to be so upset? He was totally fine before her break (it was almost 2 weeks long) but I am afraid he may climb out of his crib, he can open doors and got over a baby gate so he could seriously hurt himself. We are pretty low key and give our kids freedom, but he still cannot safely manage our stairs (wood, steep and crooked as it is an old house). We are teaching him to bump down them and even practice walking but it is a slow process.

    Do I just keep doing what I am doing? Am I missing something? I feel bad leaving him alone when he is so sad as I feel like I am telling him his feelings aren’t ok. (We do let him cry at night/nap if necessary but that is rare at this point as he is on a good schedule and knows once he is in bed that is it for the night). Any words of wisdom would be appreciated.

    Thank you!
    Kimberly

  33. avatar Farideh says:

    wow Janet, the last sentence just had a healing impact on me. I thought I was the only one who can sometimes find it hard to love my child.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  34. avatar Sheila says:

    Thank you Janet, I’m using the super-hero mentality and it feels like one more stop-gap for me before I lose my calm. I feel empowered. Your strategies are really helping me.

  35. avatar amanda, makaela's mom says:

    Ok so I have a 2.5 yr old daughter who is most likely to be ADHD and hasn’t been tested yet… she’s as sweet as can be and just like George (the monkey) ever so curious about the way things are and whatnot. her dad and i have been on and off for the last 3 years… every now and again she goes through a separation anxiety from weekend visits and gets easily upset when she comes back.. she’s been constantly testing her limits with me and sometimes having a violent fit fest and hitting mommy. At the table she let’s you know that she’s done eating but if you don’t drop what you’re doing immediately and tend to her , she ends up tossing her leftovers on the floor and gets a spanking and go to time out… I’m out of options already and she’s only getting older… sticky fingers or not we both need to be able to get through this together!!!

    • avatar Ticiany says:

      Dear Amanda. You already have the answer: she is not ADHD, she is suffering deeply from the insecurity that comes from your “on and off” relationship with her dad.
      You should take up counseling sessions with her, no drugs, and find a way to help her through this. It is a very painful and difficult situation for an adult to live in, imagine that for a child.
      Best regards!

  36. avatar Cara says:

    I really needed this post and am dealing with this a lot lately with my 6 yr old son. I too have a boat that’s easily rocked and while I know the value of not taking things personally, I inevitably do. I love the simple imagery..it’s easy to remember and almost brings some humor to the situation. Can you help me with some concrete things , if any, to say in response to some of his behavior so I can set limits? He has gotten into a habit of telling me I’m dumb, or stupid, or mean, or bad, likes dad better, ordering me around etc. I have no doubt reacted too strongly in the past, unintentionally giving those statements power. So do I just ignore and deflect it now, or should I be setting limits to this “name calling”. ? Thank you for all of your wonderful information and advice…it really helps me on a daily basis

  37. avatar meve says:

    You say that you’ve raised 3 kids healthy and well adjust in the first paragraph….
    Then you described your sensibilities in the second paragraph and things that are destructive for children when we lost control….
    Here is my question:
    Did you change and found all your secret before you had your children or unfortunately your first child have known you before you where able to wear your superheros suit…suggesting that even if we have not succeed yet in controlling ourself and stay calm every day there is still hope for our kids to be healthy if we eventually succeed in changing…(i have a 4 and a 3 years old in mind) …What do you think could help kid to forgive us our lack of leadership and stability that they need so much to develop?
    Thanks for your answer…

    • avatar janet says:

      There is always, ALWAYS hope. Children are very adaptive and ready to make positive changes with us anytime. There’s nothing they want more. So, yes, you can make changes now…or anytime. None of us will ever be perfect. The good news with children: we DO get points for trying… All that matters is that we are trying to accept their feelings and disagreements with us. Children know when we are trying. And they are very forgiving.

      In regard to your questions about me, personally, I figured a lot of this out with my first daughter, because she was/is so wonderfully intense. I continue to find “letting feelings be” my biggest challenge as a parent. Even with older children now 22, 17, and 13, allowing my children to express difficult feelings will always be a challenge for me, because of my tendency to take on the feelings of others. That’s okay. We are all a work in progress.

  38. avatar Carlota says:

    Letting feeling be in my house feels virtually impossible. Any words of wisdom will help.

  39. avatar Nerida says:

    Ooh I love this! I’m going to have to come up with a cool superhero name for myself 🙂 Thank you for sharing your secret!

    Allowing feelings to run their course is something I’ve only recently begun to master (with my 4yo and 18mo). I had a really interesting chat with my mum today and she told me that when my sister and I were little, she really couldn’t handle our crying. For her, this was in response to negative feelings about crying a lot as a child herself. Because her reaction to my crying presumably made me believe that expressing big emotions is bad, like many parents I find it difficult to hear my own girls express these emotions. But I’m so glad to have a chance to change the cycle and let my girls feel their emotions.

  40. avatar Hakea says:

    When my teens are losing their cool, I remember how sunny and gorgeous they were as toddlers!

    • avatar Elizabeth Volkmann says:

      Hakea, I agree with this. Having pictures of your children when they were young and free and just bubbling with joy and sweetness is a lovely way to re-center when things feel ‘lost’ as they get older. They are still those ‘perfect’ beings on the inside – even when on the outside things get ‘off track’. They need every bit of attention and love and patience and positivity that they were given at 6 months, 15 months, 3 years old… and more so as they get older. And I guess, forever!! It is not always easy – but having those reminders in our life, on our walls, flashing up on our computer screen can really help.

  41. avatar Suzi says:

    Thank you for your article which really hit home. My 5 year old is currently going to a behavioral therapist as are my husband and I ( as a family thing). My daughter hasn’t been diagnosed with Autism or Aspergers or any other emotion problem. The therapist thinks she’s just very strong willed and very spirited. Your article has given me something to think about during those hard,hard times when she screams at the top of her lungs just because she’s been told she couldn’t sleep with us and then that turns into a 20 minute screaming and shouting bout. Sometimes I just want to cry my eyes out. She’s clearly crying out for some reason but at that point there is no talking or reasoning with her it absolutely breaks my heart. Thank you again.

  42. avatar Grace says:

    I’m going out and getting my own superhero suit right now! I have been having a difficult time with my 12yo, and I think this will help me stay centred. Thank you!

  43. avatar Jeannie says:

    I love the share and the idea bout the superhero. Since becoming a mother to 4.5 and 2.5 year old boys, I have realized that keeping my cool is one of my biggest lessons to learn. I am SO easily affected by others emotions that when my kids turn stormy I have found it hard to keep my center. These are all things I’m striving to incorporate into my parenting. Can you say more about #’s 7 and 8. It’s so much easier said than done sometimes. For example: I had a tough day recently with my older son. he resisted a limit I had set (I forget if it was no to a sugary snack or a TV show) and he snapped and started hitting me. (This has happened a good number of times throughout 3 and 4). I very firmly said I can’t let you do that and he continued after me. I said “I see you’re really angry but you can’t hurt me.” Hitting continued at which point I said I need to pick you up and put you in another room until you calm down”. I put him in his room while scratched at me and closed the door. He threw a heavy object at the door. at which point I removed anything else that could be thrown. Eventually the storm passed. But honestly after these episodes I’m spent and boggled. I need decompression time of my own to let go of that intense behavior. For me it’s kind of fake to just go back to being cheerful, because I absolutely don’t feel that way. Perhaps you’re saying just fake it till you make it? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

  44. avatar Kate McKenna says:

    Right now I have it pretty “easy” since my son is only 4 months old, but my go to reset when he won’t stop screaming and I’m at the end of my rope is to go to the bathroom. I keep a scented candle in there (and some fun sized chocolate bars hidden in a tampon box for the REALLY rough days) and it takes almost no time to relax, release the tension and get back in a good mood. Pretty crazy how much rope one can make in a three minute potty break

  45. avatar Elizabeth Volkmann says:

    When I had a preschooler and toddler we were going some life transitions:living in a rented house, had purchased another house to renovate, September 11th had just happened. I decided that I wanted to move back to MA (we were in CT at the time) and my husband and I would enter into a commuter marriage (he in NY, us in MA) … needless to say things were twisted for awhile as we worked through this!! I noticed that I was yelling not so much at the children but at “things” – life, I suppose, and I made a big sign and hung it up int he kitchen: “I promise to stop to yelling and say what I feel. Signed, Mom.” I have to tell you that while the sign worked for my children – they could say “Remember the sign” – just blatantly putting that out there – that I was yelling, I did not like it, I knew better than that – was really what did the trick. No excuses. Yelling was not part of my toolbox (!) though it certainly was for my parents and I knew that I did not want to be like that! Yelling was in no way a “reset” button – it was a path down the rabbit hole. What was a “reset” button was acknowledging my own flaw – not my child’s – and resetting myself with the better approach.

    (And as far as the How to Talk … books, fabulous. I read the first one when my daughter was 18 months old and it changed everything about how I parent – and the book focused on learning, also had that on my shelf when I was a preschool teacher.)

  46. avatar Anna Moorby says:

    Last night my 32 month old had the mother of all meltdowns at bedtime. We have recently dropped her nap, and so bedtime is much earlier than previously. The previous night she had also had a meltdown and I had lost my cool and screamed at her. So I made a resolution that if it happened again I would keep my cool.
    And I did, while she screamed, shouted, kicked at me, and threw things, I managed to remain calm but firm. But this seemed to make her even angrier. It was like she wanted me to get angry and shout at her again. And she was trying to do everything she could to get this reaction out of me. This lasted for 40 minutes. Until out of exhaustion she begged me to nurse her, and she fell asleep in a matter of minutes.
    Not sure which approach to take tonight!

  47. avatar clarice a. says:

    What about dealing with older kids who have tantrums and meltdowns?We have a newly adopted 12 year old daughter[two months now] from an orphange and she has wetting issues 24/7 so we have her in cloth diapers and rubberpants all the time.When she doesnt get her way,she throws a tantrum and cries and drops to the floor and kicks and screams and even sometimes takes off her rubberpants and lays on the floor with her wet diaper on gets the carpet wet.We have tried being nice to her and giving her privledges and rewards and even tried reasoning with her,but she still goes off the deep end sometimes!We know its not the diapers and rubberpants,because she actually told us she prefers them,so they are not the problem.When she is in her tantrum mode,we try to be calm and let her have her space,but sometimes it doesnt work.Any one have anf suggestions for us?

    • avatar janet says:

      Tantrums cannot be reasoned with… I would encourage the dropping to the floor, etc., but not let her take her diaper off. Really LET GO and let her share these feelings with you. Don’t do anything to try to stop her or calm her down or talk her out of it. Just keep her safe. What do you mean by “it doesn’t work”?

  48. avatar Eli says:

    I always enjoy your education . However ok curious as to your interaction with children of mood disabilities such as bi polar

  49. This maybe the oldest trick in the book but it is so well versed for a reason. Breathing really does calm you down. A quick practical technique is to breathe in for seven and out for eleven. The longer outbreath has a physical effect on your body by shutting down the Sympathetic Nervous System (the fight or flight response that is activated in times of stress – and toddler tantrums are certainly stressful). This simple exercise can be done at any time, it lowers your blood pressure and your heart rate, it reduces your immediate emotional reactions, allowing you to calm down and think of more productive responses.

  50. avatar Crystal O'Morrow says:

    Janet, my almost 4 year old son was a high needs baby and now a very strong willed kid. I’m having challenges getting him to stay in his room for quiet/nap time when I’m putting his 18 month old sister down for her nap. We use a gate to keep him safely in his room, but getting him to be in there when I’m trying to then get her to her room, he has epic meltdowns ending in us both yelling and his sister not getting down when she’s really needing too. We have been working on calming techniques since day one, he has a box of calming tools, etc., but I’m getting so frustrated and annoyed with the constant negotiating and the screaming when I have to walk away. I am a Highly Sensitive Person and struggle with anxiety and sensory overload with loud sounds. If I just walk away confidently, he will rattle the gate, screaming and then his sister will have a hard time settling to sleep. I use white noises in her room. If I try to stay calm and offer suggestions for him, he becomes even more insistent about being in his room. I’m at a loss! Do I just walk away and let him continue to protest alone or do I stay and risk taking on that negativity when that’s a time when I’m unable to help him? I have tried having him sit quietly in the same room with us, but he’s unable to stay still and quiet and the toddler isn’t able to go to sleep with him distracting her. It ends in tears for all of us and then we are all just spent the rest of the day from the big emotions. We have a routine, it’s displayed on the wall so he knows what to expect, but I’m not sure what else to do. My fuse ends up being short after having these big emotions every day and I feel like it never ends. Help! I feel desperate to create calm in our home.

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