Tips for Managing Meltdowns From a Child Therapist

4 minute read

Actively ignore. Most disruptive kid behavior is attention-seeking, so your most powerful response is to withdraw your attention completely by ignoring. Is your kid whining non-stop because you turned off the TV? Let her know you’ll be tuning her out. You might say, “Hey Suzie, right now you are whining, and that hurts my ears. I’m not going to answer you until you can use your regular voice.” Then, don’t give her any response or feedback (that means, no eye contact, no “mom eye,” and no verbal feedback to her behavior. The moment she does something appropriate, praise! (i.e. “Thank you so much for asking in your big girl voice.”)

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Praise the positive opposite. Do you hate when your child screams inside? Amp up the praise for those moments when you catch her using her inside voice. Hate poor table manners? Look for any opportunity to praise proper use of utensils or chewing with mouth closed. Your child will learn that he gets your attention by behaving well, and you’ll start to see that negative behavior decrease.

Give specific commands. “Calm down” can be hard for a kid to decipher. Try, “Please put your hands in your lap” or “sit in your seat.” This way, your child and you are very clear on what is being asked.

Tell your child what TO do rather than what NOT to do. A command to “stop running” might back fire if your child then chooses to skip or gallop down the aisle at Target. Instead, try “please walk next to me.” This gives the child a specific expectation and there is no guesswork for you on whether or not she is choosing to comply.

Label problem behaviors. If your child likes to kick, pinch, push, and throw toys when he gets upset, you might label all these behaviors as “rough,” and let him know that anytime he’s rough, there will be a set consequence. Pick a neutral time (i.e. when he’s not in trouble), and try saying something like this: “Hey Johnny, usually you do a really good job being gentle with your hands. But sometimes, you forget and you are really rough. You are rough when you pinch, push, kick, or throw toys. From now on, anytime you’re rough, you’re going to have to sit in time-out. I know you’ll do your best to remember to be gentle so you can keep playing and having fun.” Don’t forget to label the behaviors in the moment—i.e. “Johnny, you just pushed your sister. That’s being rough. Because you’re rough, you’re going to have to have a timeout.”

Practice attunement. The best way to decrease problem behaviors is to increase your connection and positive interactions with her. Try saving 5-10 minutes every day to get down and really play with her. Let her lead the play, and you just following along. Praise her for what she is doing well. These types of interactions will help her feel heard and seen by you, and make her less likely to demand her attention in negative ways throughout the day.

This article originally appeared on Avelist

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