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Do You Recognize the 4 Warning Signs of an Impending Toddler Meltdown?

Do You Recognize the 4 Warning Signs of an Impending Toddler Meltdown?

You’re in the checkout lane at the grocery store, and your attention is on about six different things. This is the absolute worst possible time for a tantrum, and seemingly out of the blue, the screaming begins. How do kids seem to magically know exactly when a meltdown will cause us the most stress?

Our kids aren’t trying to embarrass us or screw up our plans, they’re really not—they’re simply trying to get their own needs met and since they’re young, they’re incredibly self centered. Sensing that we’re under stress and choosing behaviors that will be more helpful is a highly advanced skill, even for a 5-year-old. Your 3-year-old is just not capable of considering YOUR emotional world. In fact, he’s just beginning to understand his own emotions.

Your young child needs a lot of help from you in order to understand and manage her emotions, and when that help isn’t forthcoming (and sometimes even when it is), tantrums ensue. So what can you do to reduce the frequency and duration of those inevitable meltdowns? The first step is to begin to recognize when they’re coming down the pike.

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Warning Signs

Even in the moments when tantrums seem to appear with no warning, there actually IS an underlying cause, and your child has been ramping up for a while; you just probably didn’t notice what was happening in the moment. Which is completely understandable, by the way—I mean, how often are we actually able put our complete attention on our kids? Well, unless you’re spending 24/7 with them, it’s definitely not enough from their perspective.

Here are some simple ways to begin to see a tantrum coming from a mile away.

Begin by asking yourself these questions:

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Is my child:

1) Avoiding eye contact or ignoring me?

When kids are on emotional overload they tend to avoid eye contact and ignore their surroundings as a defense mechanism. Believe me, they’re not doing this to upset you: on the contrary, they’re actually just doing their best to regulate their emotions and avoid a meltdown.

2) Whining or clinging?

Whining and clinging are both signs that your child needs more of you than he’s getting right now. By ignoring these warning signs, you’re essentially telling your child that it’s necessary to escalate in order to get his needs met. On the other hand, if you can notice this warning sign and address it directly with extra love and attention, you’re likely to avoid a tantrum altogether.

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But what about those who say that giving kids love and attention when they’re whining will only encourage them to do it more? Sure, you can train a child to act in a certain way with positive or negative reinforcement, but whining and clinging are natural ways to express feelings of insecurity and discontent. My strategy is to address those underlying needs directly, rather than focusing on the behaviors that emerge as a result of the needs. I can’t imagine solving the problem of insecurity by taking away the very thing your child is desperate for: your love and attention.

3) Tired or hungry?

I know that when I’m tired or hungry my emotions are heightened, and it’s the same for our kids. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that exhaustion and hunger are the leading causes of toddler tantrums. Sure, there might be some other trigger, like not getting the right colored cup, but really, is it the cup that caused the tantrum? I think it’s more likely that the low blood sugar or missed nap are the real culprits.

4) About to transition, or in an unfamiliar social situation?

Transitions are difficult for young people and adults alike, but for young kids, every transition is an opportunity to express withheld emotions. This is especially the case if you’re trying to help a child transition away from something they’re enjoying and toward something less fun, like climbing into the car. Unfamiliar social situations can also cause those pent-up feelings to come out in a big way simply because children don’t have the emotion regulation skills that we adults have gained through our life experience. We’ve learned that there are appropriate and inappropriate times to express our emotions, situations that lend themselves to openness, and others in which the socially responsible thing to do is to leave and deal with our feelings elsewhere. Young children have none of that awareness and need us to guide them toward more appropriate behavior if that’s what we think is needed.

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So, those are the four questions to ask yourself throughout the day to see if there’s a tantrum on the horizon. If you answer yes to any of them, be on the lookout for a possible meltdown situation. And if you answered yes to more than one, take evasive action immediately! What kind of evasive action you ask? Well, to tell you the truth, the action I’d recommend is not evasive at all.

4 Steps to Handling Meltdowns with Ease and Grace:

1) Acknowledge your child’s feelings

Sometimes this can be the magic bullet that turns a potential tantrum into a snuggle instead. Essentially, you’re sending your child the message that her feelings are important and that you understand what’s going on for her. I’ve been shocked at how the simple act of empathy can completely transform a child’s energy from defiant to willing. Just by acknowledging your child’s feelings with an expression like, “I see that you’re really upset about that,” you’re opening the door for more connection as well as mutual respect and understanding.

2) Breathe, relax, and make eye contact

If you’re upset, your child will likely continue to escalate. On the other hand, if you can remain calm, and just breathe and relax, you’re modelling the emotion regulation that your child is still learning. If this is tricky for you, take some time to talk with a friend or counselor, or to journal about the feelings that come up when your child is losing it. If you’re able to relax, then make eye contact with your child and offer her some silent empathy. “May I please see your eyes?” is a question I ask a lot, especially when I’m working with a young child who doesn’t seem to want to listen. Sometimes just showing your child that you care through loving eye contact can help bridge the gap and encourage a cooperative spirit.

3) Offer a hug or other comfort

A hug, a snuggle, a favorite joke—these are just a few of the ways you can help diffuse the situation and teach your child healthy ways to regulate his emotions. Compassion is the key here. By recognizing that your child is asking for help in the only way he knows how, you can turn a potential power struggle into a moment of loving connection.

4) Let your child know what’s happening

There’s a whole lot going on in our modern world: I can hardly keep it all straight for myself, so I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be growing up in the middle of this busy, tech focused, fast driving world we live in. Any time you’re able to, give your kid a heads-up about what’s about to happen. If she’s already upset about something, try letting her in on what’s happening from a wider perspective. “I see that you’re upset, and the reason we have to go right now is because it’s 2:45 and we’re supposed to meet our friends at 3:00.”

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Last Updated on January 3, 2020

The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

Are you waiting for life events to turn out the way you want so that you can feel more positive about your life? Do you find yourself having pre-conditions to your sense of well-being, thinking that certain things must happen for you to be happier? Do you think there is no way that your life stresses can make you anything other than “stressed out” and that other people just don’t understand?  If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, you might find yourself lingering in the land of negativity for too long!

The following are some tips to keep positive no matter what comes your way. This post will help you stop looking for what psychologists call “positivity” in all the wrong places!  Here are the ten essential habits of positive people.

1. Positive people don’t confuse quitting with letting go.

Instead of hanging on to ideas, beliefs, and even people that are no longer healthy for them, they trust their judgement to let go of negative forces in their lives.  Especially in terms of relationships, they subscribe to The Relationship Prayer which goes:

 I will grant myself the ability to trust the healthy people in my life … 

To set limits with, or let go of, the negative ones … 

And to have the wisdom to know the DIFFERENCE!

 2.  Positive people don’t just have a good day – they make a good day.

Waiting, hoping and wishing seldom have a place in the vocabulary of positive individuals. Rather, they use strong words that are pro-active and not reactive. Passivity leads to a lack of involvement, while positive people get very involved in constructing their lives. They work to make changes to feel better in tough times rather than wish their feelings away.

3. For the positive person, the past stays in the past.

Good and bad memories alike stay where they belong – in the past where they happened. They don’t spend much time pining for the good ol’ days because they are too busy making new memories now. The negative pulls from the past are used not for self-flagellation or unproductive regret, but rather productive regret where they use lessons learned as stepping stones towards a better future.

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4. Show me a positive person and I can show you a grateful person.

The most positive people are the most grateful people.  They do not focus on the potholes of their lives.  They focus on the pot of gold that awaits them every day, with new smells, sights, feelings and experiences.  They see life as a treasure chest full of wonder.

5. Rather than being stuck in their limitations, positive people are energized by their possibilities.

Optimistic people focus on what they can do, not what they can’t do.  They are not fooled to think that there is a perfect solution to every problem, and are confident that there are many solutions and possibilities.  They are not afraid to attempt new solutions to old problems, rather than spin their wheels expecting things to be different this time.  They refuse to be like Charlie Brown expecting that this time Lucy will not pull the football from him!

6. Positive people do not let their fears interfere with their lives!

Positive people have observed that those who are defined and pulled back by their fears never really truly live a full life. While proceeding with appropriate caution, they do not let fear keep them from trying new things. They realize that even failures are necessary steps for a successful life. They have confidence that they can get back up when they are knocked down by life events or their own mistakes, due to a strong belief in their personal resilience.

7. Positive people smile a lot!

When you feel positive on the inside it is like you are smiling from within, and these smiles are contagious. Furthermore, the more others are with positive people, the more they tend to smile too! They see the lightness in life, and have a sense of humor even when it is about themselves. Positive people have a high degree of self-respect, but refuse to take themselves too seriously!

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8. People who are positive are great communicators.

They realize that assertive, confident communication is the only way to connect with others in everyday life.  They avoid judgmental, angry interchanges, and do not let someone else’s blow up give them a reason to react in kind. Rather, they express themselves with tact and finesse.  They also refuse to be non-assertive and let people push them around. They refuse to own problems that belong to someone else.

9. Positive people realize that if you live long enough, there are times for great pain and sadness.

One of the most common misperceptions about positive people is that to be positive, you must always be happy. This can not be further from the truth. Anyone who has any depth at all is certainly not happy all the time.  Being sad, angry, disappointed are all essential emotions in life. How else would you ever develop empathy for others if you lived a life of denial and shallow emotions? Positive people do not run from the gamut of emotions, and accept that part of the healing process is to allow themselves to experience all types of feelings, not only the happy ones. A positive person always holds the hope that there is light at the end of the darkness.  

10. Positive person are empowered people – they refuse to blame others and are not victims in life.

Positive people seek the help and support of others who are supportive and safe.They limit interactions with those who are toxic in any manner, even if it comes to legal action and physical estrangement such as in the case of abuse. They have identified their own basic human rights, and they respect themselves too much to play the part of a victim. There is no place for holding grudges with a positive mindset. Forgiveness helps positive people become better, not bitter.

How about you?  How many habits of positive people do you personally find in yourself?  If you lack even a few of these 10 essential habits, you might find that the expected treasure at the end of the rainbow was not all that it was cracked up to be. How could it — if you keep on bringing a negative attitude around?

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I wish you well in keeping positive, because as we all know, there is certainly nothing positive about being negative!

Featured photo credit: Janaína Castelo Branco via flickr.com

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