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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 February 11, 2021

The 20 Most Creative Instagram Accounts That Will Inspire You

The 20 Most Creative Instagram Accounts That Will Inspire You

Instagram allows you to see exactly what inspires people and how creativity is drawn from their everyday life. We use Instagram to capture what makes us smile, what brings joy to our life, and what we are passionate about, and the accounts listed below are sure to inspire you in turn.

Here are our 20 top creative Instagram accounts that you should be following today.

1. Humans Of New York

Brandon Stanton walks the streets of New York City taking street photography, and he gets his subjects to open up about life details that even many family members may not know about them. It makes you smile and connect with the images at a new level.

 2.  Paris in Four Months

Carin Olsson moved to Paris and is documenting every part of her experience, from the macaroons to the Eiffel Tower with all of its shimmering lights. If you want to go to Paris but can’t get there today, Carin will take you.

3. Civilized Caveman Cooking

George Bryant offers up more than his love for cooking Paleo cuisine as he shares more about life, joy, and happiness. His coined hashtag is #hugsandbacon.

4. Andrew Knapp

Andrew has taken the world by storm with his adorable version of Where’s Waldo? His version is Find Momo, and stars his border collie.

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5. Idafrosk

Ida Skivenes has developed a knack for food art. From the world of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Strawberry Fields Forever, she has recreated it all with food.

6. GrandmaBetty33

Grandma Betty is fighting cancer and is inspiring others to smile and be happy in life. She brings a smile to your face instantly and is like having your grandma right beside you.

7. Maya_on_the_Move

Tania Ahsan captures the world of her cute bulldog, Maya, on her adventures in New York. Maya makes appearances that will make you smile, laugh, and inspire you to go out and create something special.

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8. Leoleoparis

Leo captures the life on the streets of Paris. Most of his work is done in black and white, offering that iconic Parisian look.

9. Jacob Santiago

Jacob Santiago creates stunning, vibrant images around New York City, showcasing the architecture and streets. I’m sure you haven’t seen the streets of NYC like this before.

10. Julie’s Kitchen

Julie Lee showcases how everyday produce can create colorful art designs. At first glance, you think it is just a design; then, a second take illustrates that it is really fruits and vegetables.

11. iloveplaymo

iloveplaymo brings together photography and Playmobil toys in action. The images are up to date with current world events and everyday life.

12. “Red” Hong Yi

Red Hong Yi loves to paint without a paintbrush. Her style uses daily items to create lovely images.

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13. Alexis Diaz

A breathtaking artist from Puerto Rico who loves to paint murals. Alexis’s work is featured all over the world.

14. Murad Osmann

Murad Osmann is a music video producer, but his claim to fame on Instagram has been his photographs with his girlfriend leading him by her hand.

15. Simone Bramate

Simone Bramate is a storyteller who just so happens to take delightful photos as well.

16. Willie Kessel

Willie Kessel brings beach life right to your smartphone. Amazing surf and lifestyle images that take your mind off of all of the work and stress in your life.

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17. Nick Ulivieri

Nick Ulivieri is a talented photographer who loves to capture the windy city of Chicago and skies, especially during storms. His images are gorgeous and make you realize how wonderful life really is.

18. Jo Jerry

Jo Jerry’s landscape photos around Santorini, Greece, make you want to book a flight immediately. The bright colors and simplicity in the images make his photos stand out from the rest.

19. GoPro

GoPro uses fan-sourced images on their account that are all captured with a GoPro. Creativity to the max is used in these images and range from the grocery store to incredible surf.

20. Vin Farrell

Vin Farrell is a creative who works on the agency side for large clients and has a knack for photography. His iPhone captures amazing aerial images around NYC and the world.

Featured photo credit: Andy via flickr.com

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