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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 September 15, 2020

4 Ways to Deal With Big Life Changes in a Positive Way

4 Ways to Deal With Big Life Changes in a Positive Way

Life changes are constant. Whether it’s in the workplace or our relationships, nothing in life ever remains the same for long.

Regardless of the gravity of change, it can always be a little scary. So scary, in fact, that some people are downright crippled by the idea of it, causing them to remain stagnant through anxiety.

Have you ever noticed how much of life’s transitional periods are riddled with anxious vibes? The quarter life crisis, the mid-life crisis, cold feet before getting married, retirement anxiety, and teenage angst are just a few examples of transitional periods when people tend to panic.

We can’t control every aspect of our lives, and we can’t stop change from happening. However, how we respond to change will greatly affect our overall life experience.

Here are 4 ways you can approach life changes in a positive way.

1. Don’t Fight It

I once heard one of my favorite yoga instructors say “Suffering is what occurs when we resist what is already happening.” The lesson has stuck with me ever since.

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Life changes are usually out of our control. Rather than trying to manipulate the situation and wishing things were different, try flowing with it instead.

Of course, some initial resistance is natural if we’re going into survival mode. Just make sure you are conscious of when this resistance is no longer serving you.

If you’re feeling anxious about impending life changes, it’s time to practice some techniques to address the anxiety directly. These can include meditation, exercise, talking with friends about how you’re feeling, or journaling.

If you’re worried about a big life change, such as starting a new job[1] or moving in with your partner, do your best to control your expectations. It may help you to talk with people you know about their experiences going through similar changes. This will help you form a realistic picture in your mind of what things will look like post-change.

2. Find Healthy Ways to Deal With Feelings

Whenever we’re in transitional periods, it can be easy to lose track of ourselves. Sometimes we feel like we’re being tossed about by life and like we’ve lost our footing, causing some very uncomfortable feelings to arise.

One way we can channel these feelings is by finding healthy ways to release them. For instance, whenever I find myself in a difficult transitional phase, I end up in a mixed martial arts studio.

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The physical activity helps me channel my emotions and release endorphins. It also helps me get in shape, which generally increases my mood and energy levels.

Exercise is important in cultivating positive emotions, but if you’re struggling with anxiety in particular, it’s important to cultivate a regular exercise routine as opposed to a one-off workout. One study found that “Aerobic exercise can promote increase in anxiety acutely and regular aerobic exercise promotes reduction in anxiety levels”[2].

If exercise isn’t your thing, there are other, less intense ways of cultivating positive emotions and reducing anxiety around life changes. You can try stretching, meditating, reading in nature, spending time with family and friends, or cooking a healthy meal.

Find what makes you feel good and helps you ground yourself in the present moment.

3. Reframe Your Perspective

Reframing perspectives is a very powerful tool used in life coaching. It helps clients take a situation they are struggling with, such as a major life change, and find some sort of empowerment in it.

Some examples of disempowered thinking during life changes include casting blame, focusing on negative details, or victimizing[3]. These perspectives can make awkward transitional phases much worse than they have to be.

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Meanwhile, if we utilize a more positive perspective, such as finding a lesson in the situation, realizing that there may be an opportunity for something, or that everything passes, we can come from a greater place of ease.

4. Find Time for Self-Reflection

Having time to reflect is important at any stage in your life, but it’s especially important during transitional periods. It’s quite simple really: we need our time to step back and get centered when things get a little crazy.

As a result, big life changes are perfect for doing some self-reflection. They are opportunities to check in with ourselves and practice getting grounded for a few minutes.

Take a look at this reflective cycle adapted from Glibb’s Self-reflection guide (1988):[4]

Use self-reflection when facing life changes.

    Self-reflective exercises include meditating, yoga or journaling,[5] all of which require some quiet time to get yourself together.

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    One study found that journal improves “self-efficacy, locus of control, and learning”[6]. A healthy sense of self-control can make the process of change easier to bear, so that in itself is a great reason to try self-reflection through journaling.

    To learn how to start journaling, you can check out this article.

    Final Thoughts

    Big life changes may rock us for a little while, but they don’t have to be as bad as we initially perceive them. If handled in a positive manner, transitional periods can pave the way for some serious self-growth, reflection, and awareness.

    Cultivate a sense of positivity and find ways to diminish the anxiety around life changes. Once you make it to the other side, you’ll be grateful that you made it through in the best way possible.

    More Tips on Facing Life Changes

    Featured photo credit: Alora Griffiths via unsplash.com

    Reference

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