I have an 8 year old son whose explosive emotions can make each day quite the challenge.
He can have a meltdown over anything; from tidying his lego away to not being allowed icecream after breakfast!⠀⠀⠀⠀
Are your kids the same?
It’s tough to keep your cool when you have a highly sensitive child – your energy is likely running low and perhaps you feel like having a meltdown too! It’s helpful to accept that often high sensitivity in your child may have been inherited from you. There’s nothing wrong with that at all; Allah created us with different characteristics and personalities – it’s how we control our own traits and help our children manage their’s, that matters.
- Many of us mums find it difficult to keep our cups full, ie. maintain our energy levels. If you’re struggling to get child-free time, or don’t think you know how to re-energise, let me know in the comments. InshaAllah I’ll make a post about it.
Understand what's Happening
Did you know that just like babies and toddlers go through biological, developmental stages, our children continue to do so too. We often forget that children are still incomplete little creatures. Their brains are continuing to form the vital neural connections needed to effectively deal with all of life’s scenarios.
Generally, children go through 3 main developmental stages:
- 3-6 years
- 7-13 years
- 14-18 years
Each stage brings new challenges for us parents as we learn to adapt to our ever growing little humans.
My son is 8 years old, he’s learning what it means to be older and have a more structured life. He’s in full time education and has lots of child-sized responsibilities to keep up with. His school work, his self-care, keeping his belongings tidy, getting on with peers, helping in the home etc. His opinions are strenghtening and his eagerness to expand his current limits and see what else he can conquer, is strong. To him the world is a big, exciting place with endless possibilities. However, the order and organisation we implement as responsible parents, is at odds with his unbridled curiosity.
Understanding that this is a natural phase of my son’s development and that neurological changes are happening inside of him – makes it easier to deal with.
Saying that, even on the best of days, patience can only take me so far. Over the last 12 years I have read, listened and watched from multiple sources, authors and experts on, how to communicate with children. How to understand my child’s psychology and how to equip myself with practical parenting tools that make light work of my child’s meltdowns, tantrums and persistence.
Below are the steps that I have developed (and continue to develop – because we never stop learning), to help my child and myself through their emotional meltdowns.
1. Get connected
Children need to feel listened to – just like we all do.
Make sure your days are not just filled with directives (get dressed, it’s time for dinner, tidy up, turn that off now, be kind to your sister, no more sweets etc.) We have to treat our relationship with our child, like we would treat any other valued relationship. When we have running light-hearted conversations, common interests, family jokes and empathy with our children, they feel heard, valued, important and respected.
For your spirited, highly sensitive child, you really want to capitalise on the times when things are calm.
Talk to them about emotions, validate them, normalise them – don’t belittle or berate them. Emotions are natural and important for healthy functioning humans, but at the same time children (as well as adults!) need to learn how to harness them – how to control them. Try talking about your experiences – be real and raw. Show your child that you can be vulnerable too, that you’re human and that you have to work hard to keep your anger at bay as well. You’ll be strengthening your bond with them, increasing their respect for you and modelling responsible adult behaviour.
2. Build self-awareness
I’ve started helping my son become aware of when hes not feeling calm by pointing out what happens to his body (frown, loud voice, tense hands etc). We compare it to how our bodies feel when we’re happy and this has helped him to understand that his explosive, reactive meltdowns are a result of his emotions bubbling out of control – abit like a volcano.
- If you’re that crafty, activity-queen kind of mum, you could do this fun volcano experiment with some household items, to help your child visualise what’s happeing to them when they have a meltdown.
- If you’re not crafty – not to worry, try this easy volcano making kit from Amazon (available on prime)
An active, erupting volcano is destructive – just like our anger can be destructive. Even if no one is physically harmed – words and the invisible mental and physiological symptoms of unleashed anger, (especially on a regular basis,) does harm. It affects relationships and builds disatisfaction and discontent in a person, yes, even in a child.
If such feelings are left to build and are never addressed, you can imagine that the meltdowns will only get worse. They will continue until your child ‘grows out of them’. Growing out of them may put an end to regular disruptive meltdowns, but the unresolved feelings don’t disappear.
There is a direct link between childhood experiences and adult mental health.
It’s more than likely that in adulthood, your ‘explosive’ child, who never had the opportunity to explore and understand his large emotions, could have problems with anger management and even suffer from depression.
Help your child to succeed and grow into a well-balanced, mentally-healthy adult – get them more in tune with their body and feelings now, and build their self-awareness.
3. Plan ahead
There is that famous proverb:
Failing to plan, is planning to fail
Planning what you’re going to say and do during your child’s meltdowns beforehand is always a wise move. Choose a time when your energy levels are strong and both you and your child are happy and calm. Then decide on a course of action for when meltdown strikes.
My son and I agreed that he needed a safe, quiet place with some calming activities to do, to help him cool down when needed. He chose a few favourite books and a lego model, which we put in a small drawer near his bed and we agreed that when he felt angry and ‘out of his calm zone’, I would gently direct him to find his quiet place.
“This is,” I stressed, “not a punishment.”
If we would like our children to be ‘well-behaved’, we need to help them learn to recognise and manage their emotions.
4. Act ASAP
“Become a mum that is alert to the overall well-being of each child.”
You don’t need to be engaging in play and activities with your child every hour of the day, just get yourself emotionally in tune with your children. Especially your spirited child – ie. your emotionally-sensitive child.
I can pretty much see my 8 year old’s frown, lowered head and clenched fists even when I am downstairs and he is in his room. An emotionally charged voice shouts “That’s not fair!” and his emotions begin their unrestrained outpouring all over his siblings (- who may or may not have suddenly changed the rules to a game.)
That’s the moment you need to ACT:
- Get up and find your distressed child before the full meltdown takes over.
I have to stop myself responding emotionally by trying to solve the squabble – as that’s not the aim here. We don’t want to be solving our child’s problems (a post for another time inshaAllah), our priority here is to keep everyone safe, and support the child who is struggling emotionally. Addressing the issue can wait.
5. Describe their feelings
Approach your child and speak to them in a calm voice – describe their situation to them – put how they’re feeling into words. Try:
- “I can see you’re not feeling so happy right now.”
- “You’re not feeling very calm right now, something must have upset you.”
- “You’re upset, let’s help you calm down so that it’s easier for me to help you.”
When you validate your child’s feelings by empathising with their situation (try to really imagine how they’re feeling), you’re communicating to them that:
- You care
- They’re important
- You have their best interests in mind.
You want your children to feel that they can trust you to help them. This doesn’t mean solve their problems. It means help them through their emotions and feelings first, so that they can solve their own problems.
6. Help them regain calm
Often, verbally empathising with your child is enough to help them calm down, but with the highly sensitive or spirited children, you probably need to take a step further.
Now is the time to implement that plan you made in Step 3.
Warmly direct your child to their quiet place and tell them they can return when they feel calm – not when you say so and no timing. This is not a punishment.
If my son is in a hurry to return and has not fully calmed down yet, I help him recognise that his body language still shows he’s upset. We need them to be relaxed, and ready to find a solution to their problem.
7. Problem Solve
When your child is calm (and you are too), go back to the problem that upset them and listen to what they have to say.
This is the teachable moment.
By now, your child is able to think as rationally and as clearly as they are able too. And by validating their emotions through empathy, you’ll be able to help them see what went wrong and come up with solutions together.
No meltdown, no shouting, no tantrum, no impulsive anger.
Taking ownership of your role as a parent is for people who take action. You can transform and improve your relationship with your child. Make the intention, pray and try this method with your child.
I’d love to know how it went for you. Let me know in the comments.
- To learn more I highly recommend you read ‘Calm Parents, Happy Kids’ by parenting coach and child psychologist Dr. Laura Markham – it changed my parenting game!
- If you’d like to know more about empathy and how to validate your child’s emotions, let me know in the comments and I’ll put a post together for you inshaAllah.
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