Four Ways to Diffuse a Meltdown

A mom hugs her toddler son after a tantrum

A regulated, calm adult can regulate a dysregulated child but a dysregulated adult can never calm a dysregulated child.” – Dr. Bruce Perry

One of the most special things about family and friends is that close emotional bond we feel to one another. We can pick up on their vibes – good or bad – even before they utter a word. 

And when it comes to the little one in our lives, these bonds are even stronger.

Ever wonder why it’s so easy for us to pick up on the feelings of children? And for them to pick up on the emotions of parents, caregivers or teachers?

It comes down to our biology – our nervous systems are always sending out information to one another. 

And as beautiful as this connection is, sometimes it presents its challenges…

It can seem impossible to come from a space of calm and compassion when your child bursts out in a temper tantrum of frustration or anger.

So today I want to share something that’s brought me peace and relief in the classroom many times. It’s a mantra that can transform the vibe of any tough situation with your child:

“My child is having a hard time, not giving me a hard time.”

Why is it so powerful? Because it helps us see that when children act up, it’s not because they’re trying to annoy us…as much as it may sometimes feel like it.

What’s actually happening is that they’re going through some turbulent emotions themselves. And whoever is around at the time that they’re dealing with their frustration, fear, or stress…that’s who they’ll take it out on. 

If that happens to be us, it’s no wonder we get upset! 

But this upsets them even more. The cycle goes on until we decide to take the higher road…

Through co-regulation, we can learn to respond to difficult emotional situations differently – together and with support.

The premise behind co-regulation is this: the more stable you feel, the easier it becomes to soothe another. 

Through co-regulation, you can help your child settle down in tough situations…without succumbing to anger or frustration yourself. You teach them that they have the power to handle difficult emotions in the future.

“A regulated, calm adult can regulate a dysregulated child but a dysregulated adult can never calm a dysregulated child.” – Dr. Bruce Perry

So what does co-regulation look like? And how can you use this method next time your child is overcome by big emotions?

Instead of becoming frustrated with your child when they’re in the middle of a tantrum, you can:

  1. Take a few deep breaths.

Take a quick time-out and center yourself. View the situation through compassion. Imagine what could’ve disturbed your child to cause them to act out in this way.

  1. Hear and acknowledge their feelings.

Connect and name the emotion they’re feeling: “You’re feeling upset/angry/sad aren’t you?” Let them hear the empathy in your voice. Help them feel safe by allowing them to feel these feelings as they are.

  1. Take action and provide reason. 

This is where you can draw boundaries and ensure that your child isn’t getting away with actions that might hurt them or others. Once your child knows that you empathize with their feelings, let them know why you’re doing what you’re doing: “I’m taking this item away because I don’t want to see you get hurt.” Speak in a calm but firm manner.

  1. Be the example.

Work on regulating your own emotions as they arise. Take time for daily self-care and mindfulness so that it’s easier for you to exhibit the kind of behavior you want your child to emulate under stress.

So next time your little one is having a hard time, be compassionate with them – and yourself.

Emotional regulation is a skill…and we’re all learning together. I know it’s not always easy, but I believe in you. You got this!

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