One thing that has really helped in my classroom and in my home in regards to meltdowns and tantrums (for both my 10year old and my 3 year old) is being able to hold space for my children’s feelings. Whether it’s having a specific “Calm Down Area” with calming toys, or changing my dialogue to acknowledge and help understand emotions, I find that my kids (and I, by extension,) are much more capable of navigating their feelings and their reactions when things are uncertain or don’t go their way. Here are some of my tips and tricks to starting that process in your own home or classroom.
First of all, I want to be very contradictory by saying these two things
- You know your child(ren). Whether it’s your house or your classroom, you know what may or may not work given the specific situations your children face every day. Don’t do things that you KNOW will be more stress than comfort.
- Give the things you DO try a fighting chance. Especially in regards to routine and procedure. Things may not go smoothly at first, or the first few times you try something. But repetition is key. Don’t try something, see it fail the first time, and then give up. I usually say try it for 3-5 days. If it’s still not going well after that, then move on. This is a slow game, and it’s ok if there’s not an immediate turnaround.
Now to the list!
- Whatever you choose, introduce it when children are calm and happy. This could be during a Circle Time or Morning Meeting if you’re in a classroom, or during a lull in the day when your kids are happy and content. Trying to explain breathing techniques or special toys while they’re in the middle of a melt down will do no one any favors.
- Practice the techniques you wish to introduce often. When I introduced my Calm Down basket in my classroom, we discussed it during Morning Meeting. I passed the toys around, and we explored how to use them properly. We still talk about them every once in a while during Morning Meetings. For a few weeks, I also used the “Calm Down” area as a center. Kids would have the option to explore the basket while calm and happy, they got to play with the toys in there, and really started to understand how to use them. I saw significantly less toy breakage during tantrums and meltdowns, and I attribute it to this step. At home, I would encourage your kids to play with the calm down toys correctly and calmly. (Don’t let them throw a squishy ball from the basket around if you don’t want them throwing it in a meltdown, etc).
- We also practice calming breathing and “Mindful Moments” as well. Both at school and at home, I will spend some time with my kids having a mindful moment, (we LOVE the Moshi Twilight app for this. They have 15 minute meditations, 5 minute Moshi Moments, music, white noise, and sleep stories, too!) We do this when we’re calm and centered already, as well as when we’re antsy and anxious, and really need it. This way, we know what to do!
- Give them words to use to talk about their feelings. When my son was just starting to talk, we would use the exchange “Are you having big feelings?” and regardless if the answer was yes or a loud wail and crying, we would ask, “Do you want a big hug to go with your big feelings?” This gave my son words to explain what was happening to his mind and body (“big feelings”) and showed him that we understood, acknowledged, and love him in those feelings, which made it so much easier to calm him down. With my 10 year old, we still say things like “I understand you’re feeling angry, but….” or “It looks like you’re feeling frustrated. Here’s what needs to happen…” This allows us to have the conversation that needs to happen without forcing her to talk if she doesn’t want to. In class, we have an AWESOME flip book that has monsters with different feelings, and how we can support ourselves during those feelings. This is a great tool for mid-meltdown, and also to facilitate discussions during Morning Meetings and other class time.
- Your calm down space should reflect your children’s needs. Do they need to feel comfy and cozy? Deck it out with blankets and pillows! Do they need things to refocus their energy on? Put in some puzzles, brain teasers, and other brain work! Do they need things to squeeze, or watch to focus their breathing or emotions on? Remember to show them how to use each item before they need it!
- Try to separate your calm space from your active spaces. Even if you need to have 1 floor pillow that can be brought out for calming space, and put away to have play space, make sure the calm is definitively separate from the loud and noisy, or it will likely not have the desired effect.
- Talk about your feelings the way you’d like your children to talk about theirs. In my class and at home, I can be heard saying, “Wow, you are cleaning up your toys! That makes me so happy and proud!” as well as, “It looks like you’re playing instead of washing your hands. This is making me frustrated, and upset.” If I don’t talk about my feelings (both positive and negative) and model how I would like to see my kids speak, then I have no hope in asking them to use their words over other expressions. If they don’t see me healthily expressing feelings like sadness and anger, then they won’t know how to do so themselves.
- Lastly, having discussions about their feelings throughout the day helps them check in with themselves, to see how they’re expressing their emotions. If you check in when their happy and calm, it will seem MUCH less patronizing when you check in with them if their angry or upset. Help them be conscious of the feelings they’re having and give them the tools to express themselves safely.
Will they stop melting down completely? Absolutely not. Will they recover quicker if you have an abundance of resources for them? Probably.