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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 November 17, 2019

20 Creative Ways To Say Thank You

20 Creative Ways To Say Thank You

Saying, “Thank you,” can be difficult to do. Some things just demand a little something extra because of the magnitude of the favor or the depth of appreciation involved. But what can you do to say thank you in a meaningful way? Sometimes you have to get a little more creative than just firing off an email. Here are 20 creative ways to say thank you that your friends and family will remember and cherish!

1. Make a gift bag.

A unique, homemade gift bag with a custom label or a note is a simple but heartfelt way to show your appreciation for the wonderful things your friends or family have done for you.

2. Give a toast.

Many people fear public speaking more than death, giving this particular thank-you a little extra meaning. Composing a sincere, eloquent toast and delivering it is a nice way to show appreciation that truly comes from the heart.

3. Write a poem.

“Roses are red, violets are blue…” Uh, you could write that...but why not put a little extra zing in it? Find out what their favorite kind of poetry is: haiku, free verse, iambic pentameter, and so on. (Google them if you don’t know what they are.) Then write one that expresses why they deserve your thanks…and why you’re glad to give it!

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4. Create your own labels.

There are a number of websites that offer custom gift labels. Find one that fits your personality and that of your friends and create a personalized thank-you label!

5. Give a gift card.

Sometimes choosing what to give a friend can be tough. A gift card is a good way to get around this problem. As always, be sure to include a personalized note or card thanking the recipient for their friendship and help.

6. Send a letter.

Snail-mail is a largely lost art form. Don’t worry about how long the letter is, though. What really matters here is that you took the time to put pen to paper and express your feelings sincerely and honestly!

7. Use social media to send a special message.

If someone’s done something you think the whole world should know about, why not put out a social media blast? Use your blog, your Facebook, your Google+ account, and your Twitter to spread the word about why this person’s someone your friends will want to know too!

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8. Make your own digital greeting card.

While an email isn’t always the best way to go when saying thank you, a digital greeting card that you put time and effort into creating can really brighten someone’s day! Make the card reflect the recipient’s personality and compose a short message of thanks for their generosity.

9. Make a YouTube video.

Sometimes, actually hearing someone say, “Thank you,” can make all the difference. Why not take it a step further and create a special video of thanks for your friends, family, and those special people who helped make your day so important…or who helped you through that rough time?

10. Deliver cookies or candies.

Making something yourself is a fun and delightful way to say thank you to someone. Create a sampling of baked goods or homemade candies and decorate them with a simple message, or make them so they form letters! (Think Valentine’s candies, only situationally appropriate.) Attach a thank-you note or label and surprise those special people with the gift of your time and creativity.

11. Make surprise gifts for guests.

There’s no need to wait until “later” to send a thank-you message. Why not do it at the time? Create little gift packets or bags for your guests with surprises inside. This is a great way to say thanks to the people who attended your event, and make sure they won’t want to miss the next one!

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12. Put together a flower basket.

Whether you prefer fresh or artificial flowers, assembling a flower basket with a thank-you note is an excellent way to brighten someone’s day and show you appreciate them.

13. Take a picture.

Sometimes capturing the moment is the best way to put a smile on someone’s face. Have someone take a picture of you receiving that special gift or opening that surprise package and send the giver a copy with a quick but sincere note to say thanks!

14. Repay their generosity by paying it forward.

The best gifts come from the heart, and the best way to repay a gift is to pay it forward. If your friend has a special cause they care about or something they believe in passionately, why not make a donation in their name or volunteer some of your time to the cause? This will mean more than any number of cookies, candies, or thank-you notes because you’re taking your friend’s love and spreading it around to others.

15. Do something special for them.

Take them out to dinner. (See “make a toast.”) Give them that movie they’ve been wanting forever. Cook them dinner and give them a present when they arrive. Any of these are good options for showing someone you really appreciate them and how grateful you are to have them in your life.

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16. Reciprocate their help.

Everyone needs help sometime. Whether it’s holding their hand through a particularly traumatic incident or helping them replace the alternator in their car, being there when they need it shows you remember what they did for you and how much it meant. It also shows that you’re willing to be just as good a friend to them as they were to you!

17. Be there for them.

Not every thank-you gesture has to be a grand public spectacle. Sometimes just giving them a place to come hang out when they’re lonely or showing up to offer them a sympathetic shoulder means the world to a person.

18. Listen to them.

Listening is almost as lost an art as the handwritten letter. When your friend or family member needs to talk, listen to them. Ask questions when appropriate, but just letting them know you’re there and paying attention to them to the exclusion of all else for a little while is a great way to say thank you for the times they listened to you.

19. Say it in another language…or two…

A simple thank you is great…but why not spice it up a little? Instead of just saying, “Thank you,” write or make a video of you telling them thank you in different languages. Some examples might be, “Gracias! Merci! Danke schoen! Spasibo! Mahalo!” and any other ways or languages you can think of. (The ones listed above are Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Hawaiian, in case you were wondering.) If you want to really get tricky about it, say a short phrase in each language that conveys why you’re thanking them!

20. Show them some love.

A simple touch, a hug, or helping out when they need it without being asked may be the most powerful gratitude message you can send. Offer to take the dogs for a walk, sit for the kids for a few hours, or run to the grocery store so they don’t have to. The little things are often the most important and meaningful. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still send a note, but sometimes your simple presence and willingness to help is all that really matters.

Featured photo credit: Hanny Naibaho via unsplash.com

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