Childhood breakdowns are a normal part of growing up. How to handle your child instead of feeling embarrassed? Here’s a five-step guide for you.
- Childhood breakdowns are a normal part of growing up; parents should not feel embarrassed.
- Remain calm and stay focused on your child, ignoring any onlookers.
- Validate your child’s feelings and offer choices whenever possible.
Jacob, almost 3 years old, has thrown himself on the floor of the grocery store screaming that he must have one more chocolate, just one more!
Sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. Most parents of young children live in terror of their little one losing it in public. It’s hard to avoid feeling judged and ashamed of out-of-control behavior as if it is evidence of your total incompetence as a parent—surely a result of your indulgence which has inevitably created a spoiled child. This naturally puts most parents in an emotionally charged place, feeling embarrassed and often angry at their child for putting them in this deeply uncomfortable and stressful situation.
Here are five steps to responding in these mortifying moments that can help you stay calm and carry on in a way that is loving to you and your child:
1. Don’t Let The Onlookers Get To You.
Ideally, just tune them out. Most are likely feeling your pain, having been there themselves, and aren’t judging. And, for those voyeurs feeling some guilty pleasure that it’s not them in the hot seat, or who think they know better, ignoring is still a good strategy so you can stay focused on coming up with a productive response to helping your child cope.
2. Kill Them With Kindness.
If a bystander makes some really helpful comment (sarcastic font), avoid being reactive. You have nothing to be defensive about. Instead, try: “It is so nice that you want to help. I really appreciate it. But I’m all good. Learning that he can’t get everything he wants is a hard lesson for a little guy, right?”
This is a nice way to send some important messages: “I am in control, and I am being a really good parent by setting appropriate limits and helping my child learn to cope with life’s disappointments.” This can be a particularly good strategy when it is your mother, or mother-in-law, or another close friend or family member who is trying to help.
3. Stay Calm.
If you are anxious and upset, your child is more likely to be anxious and upset. If you are calm and composed, she is likely to pull herself together more quickly. So while your emotional reaction is completely understandable, it is not strategic to respond in a revved-up, harsh way. Remind yourself that your child isn’t losing it on purpose.
When she is falling apart, she needs you to be her rock. It’s best to take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that if you decompensate, too, it will likely make the situation more stressful and challenging. (And, for those of you who can’t let go of what others are thinking—you don’t want to give any judgy onlookers ammunition.)
4. Validate Your Child’s Feelings.
“I know you don’t like that I am not giving you any more chocolate. I totally understand your disappointment.” Validating feelings is not the same as validating behavior. Feelings aren’t the problem; it’s what kids do with their feelings that can be problematic. (Also true for parents.)
That’s why one of your most important jobs is to help your child learn to manage these strong, difficult emotions in acceptable ways. But that takes time and practice. And, it starts with validation—the first step in helping children identify and then manage their feelings.