Toddler Meltdowns at Christmas
It's the run up to Christmas and everyone's excited. Mince pies, music and parties - what's not to love?
The little ones are loving life but already there are signs that they are slowly getting overwhelmed with all the colours, sounds, lights, excitement, trips, people and presents that are bombarding them at every turn. Then, your perfect little angel decides that they no longer want to be an angel and that it might be a lot more fun to mix things up and become the complete opposite - the devil!
This is the time that Father Christmas comes in to play, you might bring out the threat of the naughty list or that the creepy elf on a shelf that was just a bit of fun but who will now be reporting back to Santa, presents may even end up in 'present jail' as I've more recently seen on Facebook!
What happens when Christmas is over? Then what? The threats might not even be having a long term affect. Then what do you do?
Let me explain.
What you can't see from this gorgeous calm, happy, loving picture of me and son son Rufus visiting Santa is that just the day before I was at my wits end wanting to tear my hair out and I, the parental educator, didn't know what to do - the shame I was feeling as I should know better was horrific!
Rufus was being a pain in the arse and trashing the house that I'd painstakingly tidied moments earlier. He wouldn't listen to me, he bit me multiple times (something he has never done before) and I lost my shit.
I started questioning him as to why he was behaving like this. I started demanding and telling him what he had to do and how I expected him to behave. I started issuing threats and ultimatums. I cried.
That night after he was finally in bed I sat down, meditated and looked back on my day. Where had I gone wrong?
Then I realised, it wasn't his fault it was kind of mine.
See at this young age toddlers can't regulate their own emotions, that's why they need us so much still. Their little brains aren't developed enough to understand rational thought in the same way we do as adults, they need us to help stop their cup from overflowing and to regulate those emotions for them. They feed off our emotions, we are their barometer and how they learn.
That day last week, I was 37 weeks pregnant and my patience had gone, I was tired, feeling fed up and the novelty of having my husband at home had worn off for all of us. I was feeling impatient, frustrated and angry. All Rufus had been doing was mirroring those emotions right back at me. Add the extra overwhelm of the holiday season that he was most likely feeling, along with the uncertainty and fear of knowing everything in his little world is about to change with the arrival of a baby, it's no wonder he lost it too!
The way I had communicated with him that day was not how I'd normally respond to him which likely just added to the confusion of it all.
When we question our toddlers in the way that I did, expecting a rational answer, we are the mad ones. There is likely no rational reason to their behaviour at this age. A toddlers impulse control is still fairly non existent that, even if they know what they are doing is wrong, they physically and mentally can't control it.
Toddlers spend most of their lives being told what to do, when to do it and how. They have little to no control. A great way of connecting with your child and showing them a little trust is to offer them some control.
That day when I wanted Rufus to have a bath as he was filthy from playing outside, I just demanded it and told him it was happening. I didn't give him a warning or a choice of 'you can have a bath now or in ten minutes, what would you like?'. I didn't let him turn on the taps when that would have done no harm except to make him feel part of the process and give him a sense of importance. Allowing choice or a small element of control in a controlled manner, is such a strong tool to have in your parenting arsenal.
I used threats that dreadful day. "if you don't put your coat on then you can't take the dog for a walk'. What did that do except upset him further as he wanted to take the dog for a walk, annoy the dog as he wanted a walk and it was no longer happening, and instill an element of fear into my child. Again I could have gone back to offering choice, a thick jumper or a coat, or I could have just taken the coat with us for that inevitable moment when he'd realise he was cold and just ask for it.
The biggest thing though was that at no point did I validate his feelings. Every single one of us should always feel validated. Just because I felt he was being irrational, didn't mean that the emotions he was feeling n that moment were any less real for him. As a society we're very good at dealing with the positive emotions but get down to the nitty gritty and we either, ignore, cajole or say that 'of course you don't feel that way, you love jam normally'. All we are doing by reacting this way is teaching our children that it's not okay to feel negative emotions, that they must be wrong.
If you've ever dealt with a complete meltdown and actually just sat there and empathised with their feelings without trying to fix a single thing, you'll have noticed how powerful a tool empathy really is. It can stop a meltdown in it's tracks and it can reconnect a relationship.
What I realised that night after he was in bed, was that I was ignoring my feelings and by not handling them and showing my son an appropriate way of dealing with them, I was the one causing the issues of that day as by not dealing with my overflowing cup, I wasn't able to then look after his.
What has this got to do with Christmas?
Everything! Christmas is a time we all get overwhelmed.
Next time your little one starts playing up or having a meltdown, it might be worth just taking a step back, evaluating the situation.
What's going on that day? Are there too many people/presents/things going on for them to handle? Are they reacting to your emotions around the stress of cooking/ in-laws/ getting the perfect gift? Are you being supported in emptying your own cup? Are you helping them to empty theirs? Have you connected and validated how they are feeling? Have you heard them? Have you tried any of the techniques I mentioned above?
There is an amazing book called How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen - A Survival Guide to Life With Children Aged 2-7 by Joanna Faber - it's a must read for the holiday season if you want to have an easy relationship with your little angel.
As to Rufus and I, we're back on track. There's not been a single biting incident since and whilst there has been the inevitable meltdown here and there, we've handled it a respectful and communicative way. So much so that after a chat about emotions this morning we had a conversation that went like this...
Rufus: Mummy you're my best.
Me: You're best what?
Rufus: Just my best...and my friend. I love you.