Meltdowns With Preschoolers

February 1, 2018
Meltdowns With Preschoolers

This week’s tip is provided by our friends at 

The Mind in the Making team at the Bezos Family Foundation has an unusual view of meltdowns. After years of reviewing the research on the science of learning and brain development, they look beyond just disciplining your children and see meltdowns and other issues like this as opportunities to teach your child life skills—in this case, Taking on Challenges.

1.     Be there for your child.

Megan Gunnar of the University of Minnesota who studies children and stress finds that a good relationship with a parent can be a stress buffer–actually reducing stress chemicals. Your encouragement, through your words and actions, shows your child you believe in them, even when things are hard.

  • Let your child know you understand their feelings. Assure them it is okay to feel sad or angry but not act out. During a meltdown, try to use a calm voice, get down to your child’s level and say something like: “You really want to have my phone, but I can’t let you play with it now; and I am not going to let you throw it when you get ”

  • Provide non-verbal support. You may need to hold your child to keep them from hurting you or other objects, but do it in as loving a way as you can. Hugs, kisses or a pat on the back all send positive and caring messages to your child.

2.     Practice the skill of Taking on Challenges for yourself.

We all can work on the skill of Taking on Challenges—whatever our age. These difficult moments with your child provide an opportunity to think of some strategies to use in the moment to help you calm down and think clearly.

  • Step back and think of yourself as being on a TV show. Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan has found that looking at an upsetting emotional experience from distance—as if you were on a TV show or a fly on the wall—helps us cope with our negative feelings much more effectively.

  • Take some deep breaths before responding, if you feel yourself getting angry or raising your voice. If you can, take a break from the situation, saying something like: “I know you are angry that you can’t have a cookie before dinner. Let’s both “pause” to calm down, and then we can talk about what snacks you can have.”

  • Make sure to have your own support system. Nathan Fox of the University of Maryland has found that when parents have people to turn to—people on whom you can rely when you feel stressed—that affects your children’s social development in positive ways. Reach out to friends or family to help you cope. Make sure that the people you turn to are non-judgmental and know what it’s like to walk in your shoes.

3.     Prepare your child for any changes in the routine in advance, if possible.

Young children learn to manage better when things are predictable. It helps them feel in control. And you can manage better if you can anticipate and prevent problems.

  • Prepare your child as early as possible for changes in the schedule. This gives them time to make sense of what is going to happen and get ready, hopefully preventing a future meltdown and making it easier for you.

4.     Celebrate your child’s strategies for coping.

The research of Carol Dweck of Stanford University reveals that children are much more likely to try something hard, to take on a challenge, if you praise their strategies instead of praising their personalities.

  • Make your praise specific to what your child is doing like: “You were able to calm down by thinking of what you would like to do next,” instead of a general comment like: “Good job” or “You are so smart.”

5.     Help your child come up with their own ways of dealing with anger and disappointment.

At a calm moment, invite your child to come up with their own ideas, asking, “When you can’t have my phone, I want you to come up with ideas for how you are going to manage.”  If your child doesn’t have ideas, you can suggest some for them to choose from. When children come up with their own ideas for Taking on Challenges, they are more likely to try them out.

For more information on tantrums, click here


Picture courtesy of Natalie Matthews-Ramo,