Holidays and Meltdowns: They Go Together Like Peanut Butter And Jelly (page 2)
It's one of the phenomena you can set your clock by. Your child will have big feelings when there is a special holiday or birthday coming up! We parents wish the universe ran by rules a little easier on us than this one. But this is the way things work with children. It may help to know that every other family deals with this same phenomenon, and that, in a way, children are built to have big feelings on big occasions.
Why? There are several reasons that work together. First, when any holiday or birthday rolls toward a family, it puts extra demands and stress on the parents. The children tend to become infected with stress too. They get less relaxed time with their parents, and have more expectations of "good behavior" put on them in stores, at homes they're not familiar with, and among people they may not know well. And second, children's hopes soar around holiday time. They look forward to the extra attention, to extra fun, to special times. When hopes are high, children feel disappointments much more acutely. A third factor is that when many people gather to care about each other, it creates enough safety to allow feelings to bubble up!
Children cry only when they can't function any longer
Children tend to do the very best they can to cooperate and to flex. Then, they hit "the wall." They can't go another moment without exploding in feelings. These meltdowns often happen in public places, when the family gathers, or at some other highly inconvenient time for you, the parent. Either a sibling will touch a sacred toy, or a spill of juice will bring a huge cry, or who sits next to whom at Thanksgiving will be the cause for a tantrum. It happens in every family, every holiday, because it must.
Children full of tension simply have to let it out. Their systems have a built-in "emotion ejection system" designed especially for the moments when they just can't think any longer. When they're done releasing the bad feelings, they can be reasonable, thoughtful, and flexible again!
Give up false hopes that tension will disappear
It helps immensely to be prepared. Just as you are in the habit of preparing yourself for the quirks in your relatives' behavior, you can prepare to handle your child's meltdown. When you see that things are getting tense, you can move toward the tension, instead of away from it. (You set yourself up for disappointment every time you think, "maybe this time, he'll calm down all by himself.")
Move toward a child who's on the edge of upset
You can move toward a tense child to play with him for 5 or 10 minutes before leaving for Grandma's, eliciting as much laughter as you can (without tickling). This play will help him to feel more connected to you, and to regain his sense that life is good. Or you can gently but firmly set a limit if his behavior has already gone off-track. After you set the limit, stay with him and gently assist him to release the upset through crying or tantrums. Hold the limit and, at the same time, love the child.
Listening dissolves the upset
What children need is simple. They need the chance to have a good cry, express their disappointment, do the tantrum that's been brewing, or laugh a good while. When they're done, they can feel your love, notice the needs of the people around them, and show their genius for loving and living life well. Children's need to cry is as wholesome as their need for sleep--it's one of the things that keeps their minds in good working order.
Children don't cry to embarrass or manipulate their parents. They cry to offload bad feelings so they can feel better again. When their meltdown happens in public, it often means that life has been going so fast in private that they couldn't find a way to refuel with your attention there.
Think ahead to counter criticism from other adults
When others criticize your child for his or her outburst (which is, unfortunately, something you can also depend upon) you don't need to buy into their worry or disapproval of you and your child. Think ahead of time about what you want to say. "Well, at least he's doing a good job of getting this out! We'll go into the back room so you don't all have to listen to it." Or, "She's been needing me to listen to her all day!" Or, "This will be over in a little while. Save some pie for us!"
Reprinted with the permission of Hand in Hand Parenting. © 1997-2011 Hand in Hand
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