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Managing Meltdowns at Home

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Are you finding it harder and harder to get your child to do his schoolwork at home? Are they more belligerent and defiant?  Are they more anxious and avoidant?  Are you more exhausted and fed up?

Parents with school-age kids are feeling significant amounts of stress and strain these days due to the prolonged school closings and stay-at-home orders.

If you feel like you’re at your breaking point trying to juggle home and work and school demands under quarantine conditions, you’re not alone.

Now, just imagine if you could decrease the frequency and intensity of those emotional meltdowns – both yours and your child’s.

Sweet, right?!  But how?

Our mindful solutions approach, combined with trauma-informed care guidelines, provides us with lots of clues.  Let’s review a few of them.

1. AWARENESS – See the Child

Begin with empathic understanding.  Seek to clearly and compassionately see the situation you and your children are in right now.

It is NOT normal times!  Therefore, you (and they) cannot be expected to keep performing normally, let alone optimally or perfectly.  Adjust your expectations.  This is not dumbing down or giving up.  This is making a smart, strategic decision about what’s most important for you and your children right now.

Bottom line, you need to meet your child’s (and your own) basic needs before you can address school (or work) productivity.  This pyramid graphic that is an adaptation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs reminds us of the reality we’re facing.

You need to take care of your physical needs first: safety, shelter, food, sleep, health and hygiene.  It is no small feat to see and meet these needs during a time of global pandemic and economic shutdown.

You need to care of your psychological needs second: belonging, connection, peace of mind, emotional regulation.  Without these foundational blocks taken care of, nobody can focus and achieve at school or work.

Just seeing this clearly, being reminded of these truths in this time of crisis, can help shift your mindset away from unrealistic expectations for perfect academic or work performance (for you and your child) and more towards compassionate care for all of you at home right now.

More specifically, you can PAUSE to check in with your child several times throughout the day.  (Check in with yourself, too!)  How are you feeling?  What are you feeling?  Where’s your stress level right now?  Where’s your energy level right now?

Take your child’s feeling temperature (on a scale from 1-10) – How anxious/frustrated/depressed/bored/lonely… are they?  If they have a feeling fever, just like a body fever, then they can’t be productive right now.  It’s not that they won’t, they can’t.

 

2. ACCEPTANCE – Soothe the Child

Seeing clearly what your child is feeling right now – what they’re capable of doing right now – can lead us to compassionate care and acceptance.

Let’s be clear.  We’re not accepting that they’re not doing their schoolwork or chores.  We’re accepting that right now, in this moment, the child is stuck in a place where they’re having trouble meeting those expectations.  No child wants to screw up or fail or get in trouble.  So our job is to help them get unstuck.

We can’t do this effectively is we don’t PAUSE and BREATHE first ourselves.  That means, yes, stepping away from our work or household responsibilities for a time.  It means practicing the Serenity Prayer.  It means accepting our limitations for getting it ALL done right now.  Ain’t gonna happen.  We can only do the best we can with the time and energy that we have available, right now.  Same with our children.

The sooner we can make peace with that, the sooner we can engage in constructive pathways to helping our child get unstuck and move forward with more ease.

Once we’re aware of and accepting of our child’s distress, we can begin to soothe our child in a way that will help them settle and begin to regroup.

Specifically right now, I highly recommend scheduling these three things into your day:

  • “MOVE IT” TIME – Move the body – yes, scheduled exercise time (30 minutes, once or twice a day).  Outside, fresh air time if possible, vigorous and fun, if possible.  Rhythmic movement such as singing, dancing, tumbling, yoga exercises.  Walking, jumping, running around, playing tag or keep-away or anything active.  Good old-fashioned “Recess” is not optional or a luxury – it’s a necessity to get the nervous system re-regulated, and to give your kid a fighting chance for sitting down to focus on some school work or chore.
  • REST TIME – Quiet, good-old fashioned Nap time, or Siesta time, if you will.  Schedule a half-hour once or twice a day (early afternoon is often best) – to turn off all gadgets, light, stimulation and just rest.  Snuggle time.  Curl up with a blanket on the couch, or sleeping bags and pillows on the family room floor.  Maybe quiet reading.  Nothing more.  And don’t just expect your child to do this on their own.  Join them!
  • PLAY TIME – Laughing and loving time together.  Schedule it in – another half-hour at least. Choose something your child enjoys doing (actually, let your child choose) and again, do it with them.  Doesn’t matter if it’s your favorite activity.  It matters that you’re connecting with your child, that you’re building up the emotional bank account in your relationship.  It matters that they, and you, can recharge your batteries with something that brings you joy.  Without that basic human need being met (see pyramid above!), you can’t expect academic engagement and success.

You may feel like you don’t have the time for all this.  I understand.  Yet, we actually do!  We actually have a choice.  We may choose to place our time on the priorities that will bring greater peace and well-being to our family, especially given these traumatically stressful times.

Or we may choose to keep banging our head against a wall, wondering why the F- won’t these kids just calm down and do what they’re supposed to, so I can get my work done?!!  (Of course, we’re all entitled to these moments, but we don’t want to stay stuck in them, right?  So, PAUSE.  BREATHE.  PROCEED.)

 

3. ALIGNED ACTION – Strengthen the Child

After truly seeing our children’s needs and soothing them as best we can, we can help (re-)build their strength and resilience.  Some quick tips for doing so:

  • Provide a simple, realistic SCHEDULE for each day.  Get up, get dressed, eat breakfast.  Start with a period of schoolwork or focused activity (reading).  Then Recess or Play.  Then Lunch.  Then Rest.  Then work period.  Then play period.
  • REFLECT the child’s feelings or struggles AND REDIRECT them to the coping behaviors and choices they have.  Don’t fight or argue.  Acknowledge they’re upset or don’t want to do something. Join them in collaboratively problem-solving what do do with that.  What will help them calm down, and then do the best they can with the time and energy they have.  Help them do what they can.  Then let go of the rest.
  • Focus more on their strengths than their struggles.  More on the solutions than the problems.  More on what they CAN DO, than what they can’t (or won’t) do right now.  Use positive, encouraging prompts to help them remember and recommit to: “I can (do this)…. I will (do this)… I am (doing this)…”
  • PRACTICE POSITIVITY – What you focus on, grows.  So, Savor the Good.  Reflect together at least once a day on what’s good in your life.  Something you did well.  Something you’re grateful for.  Make these Positivity Practices part of your daily routine – at lunch, dinner, or especially bedtime.  Remind each other, even with all of the stress and meltdowns, there is love, there are blessings, and it was still a pretty darned good day to be alive and be together.

 


Peter Montminy, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, mindfulness teacher, loving husband and dad.  He invites you to join in an ongoing conversation that seeks to restore sanity to humanity – one child at a time.  Join us at www.AMindfulVillage.com.

 


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