Public Enemy #1: Tantrums….

Meltdowns….. tantrums….. outbursts….. They go by many names….. par for the course for the terrible twos and “threenagers”….

Whatever you choose to call them, they drive parents absolutely bonkers, whether at home or out in public at the grocery store.

For Luke, these meltdowns were much more intense than the average child. They often lasted 40 minutes to an hour, for any garden variety of reasons. Transitioning was THE biggest trigger. Bath time in particular was a challenge for this reason. He’d resist going in and would cry and fight me until I eventually got him in the tub. Then, strangely enough, when it came time for him to get out, he’d cry and scream even more that he wanted to stay in. It was emotionally draining, and I didn’t know what in the world I was doing wrong.

Obviously there were some things that I did do wrong. I myself can carry my emotions on my sleeve (just ask my husband.) That said, my own reactions to the impending “meltdown” did nothing to help the situation. I met Luke with anxiety anytime I asked him to transition to something else. Kids with ADHD tend to be emotional barometers even when they seem tuned out. He fed off my energy immediately, making his tantrum far worse. After the 40 minute mark of a meltdown, I’d completely lose my cool and begin screaming myself. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

It wasn’t until recently when I read more about executive functioning that I began to understand a huge part of what was causing his huge meltdowns. Children with a deficit in executive functioning tend to have problems with transitions and impulsive behavior. It’s nearly impossible for them to place themselves 20 minutes into the future and realize that everything will be ok if they stop what they’re doing and move on. They also have trouble regulating their emotions. Thanks to help from his social skills group, school counselors, teachers, and an adjusted parenting plan with positive reinforcement, Luke has come miles becoming the “boss of his feelings.”

What do I recommend? 

  1. It’s important to remember that a meltdown is not a sign of your child being spoiled, bad, or in “need of a spanking.” They need our help and guidance as parents to learn the appropriate reactions. As soon as we look at our children in this way, the more calm and equipped we are in dealing with the meltdown.
  2. At home, if you ever find yourself in a position where you lose your cool, lock yourself in a room or bathroom, separate from your child, and give yourself 5-10 minutes to cool down. Nine times out of 10, my kiddo calmed down faster if I just removed myself from the situation.
  3. If your kiddo is triggered by transitions like mine was, 5 minute warnings before a change in activities is a huge help. Luke is now 8, and we still give him a warning before moving on to the next event in the day. We also take the time in the morning to tell him what big events are happening in the day.
  4. Number 2 can carry over to school if a teacher asks for your input. We ended up with a fantastic teacher who would give prompts, had a visual schedule, and would also make sure Luke was alerted to changes in the school day as soon as he got to school.
  5. I can’t speak highly enough about the books The Explosive Child and The Zones of Regulation curriculum. These have been invaluable resources for me.
  6. DO NOT WAIT TO GET HELP FROM CHILDHOOD BEHAVIORAL PROFESSIONALS. This is so incredibly important. The younger a child is, the easier it is to help them. We’d been told by so many people and family members that he’d “just grow out of it.” This is nonsense. Yes, children mature, but you have to make sure they don’t develop maladaptive behavior in the process. We started Luke in a “boy’s group” with two trained psychologists in kindergarten and added occupational therapy in 1st grade. I think our lives would’ve been much easier had we gotten help sooner.

Do you have an “explosive” child? Drop a comment below to share your strategies and stories of your child’s toddler years!

Disclaimer: I’m not a trained psychologist. I’m merely passing along strategies and resources that helped our family.