How to remain calm when your child is having a meltdown

How to remain calm when your child is having a meltdown

My first child had loads of trouble sleeping. In hindsight, I know that it was a combination of several things, but part of it was that I got very stressed and upset when he cried and almost always handed him off to my husband. 

I remember one particular moment where I was at a friend’s house (they weren’t there at the time – I was alone) and I’d failed to get him to sleep. He was so tired, but just couldn’t sleep. He just screamed and screamed in my arms. Usually my husband would help at these times. He’d hold our son in a way that we dubbed the ‘Daddy hold’ which never failed to get our son to sleep. This time, though, he was out at a meeting. A feeling of utter powerlessness and panic started welling up inside of me. Eventually I called Karl and demanded that he get in a taxi and come straight back, which he did. 

After that incident, I decided that I never wanted to be in that situation again, for the sake of my son and my own sanity.

If you’re reading this then you’ve probably been in a similar situation to me. I feel for you, I really do – it’s horrible to have to see your child like this. I learned from that incident, changed various things about the way I deal with overtired or cranky children, and have become a lot better at helping them settle and sleep. I’d like to help you deal with those inevitable moments when your child has a meltdown. 

First, practice, practice, practice

To remain calm in the face of intense emotion takes a lot of willpower. It’s really easy to get sucked into it yourself.

It also takes trusting that it’s going to work. When either of my kids screams, it feels to me that they’re literally going to go on screaming until they’re 60. Logically I know that this can’t be the case, but it’s very difficult to separate logic from the panic response that their screaming creates in you.

However, I find that each time I’m successful in calming my child I can add that event to the well of strength that I’ll need to draw on next time. It gives me techniques that I can try and the knowledge that it will end. That I can really help my child, and that it’ll be better if I do.

This means that every time your child melts down, you need to use it as an opportunity to practice.

Practice at home – it’ll be easier to do when you’re out and about

If you wait until you’re in a stressful environment to practice calming techniques, then it’s going to be twice as hard for you. Start at home and it’ll be easier to do when you’re out and about.

Act as if you’re calm and calmness will follow

Try this:

  • Smiling
  • Kissing your child gently
  • Stroking your child gently

It’s weird, but acting as if you’re calm and forcing yourself to be gentle can often calm you down. If you don’t believe me, try it.

For overtired babies, find a way to distract yourself and then cuddle them to sleep

You know the phrase ‘it’s not personal, it’s business’. I’m not saying that you should treat babies as business. However, it’s important to remember that overtired babies are only crying because they’re tired. The only solution for this that will work is for them to go to sleep and the only way you can help them with this is to stay calm.

What you need to do is distract yourself from the crying enough that it doesn’t stress you out, and then cuddle them until they fall asleep.

Here are some techniques you can use:

  • Singing
  • Listening to music
  • Talking to them about all the things in the room
  • Telling them a story
  • Dancing round the room

One of the worst things you can do is to remain silent and think about how awful the situation is. Trust me, I’ve done it.

Find something to distract yourself and let your love and cuddles do the rest.

Try asking older kids a series of questions

This is a weird one, but it works. We often talk our toddler out of his tantrums, by asking a series of questions in a gentle, sing-song voice. It usually goes something like this. 

Me: ‘Are you upset?’

Jack: ‘No’

Me: ‘Do you want a cuddle?’

Jack: ‘No’

Me: ‘Do you want some dinner?’

Jack: ‘No’

Me: ‘Do you want to have a conversation?’

Jack: ‘No’

Me: ‘Do you like the colour yellow?’

Jack: ‘No’

Me: ‘Do you like the colour red?’

Jack: ‘No’

It goes on like this for a while. But at some point he’ll have moved into my arms and his ‘no’s will get a little less frantic. Eventually I’ll get a ‘yes’. To which I respond ‘oh, good’, and move on with the day.

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