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Ending Tantrums & Meltdowns

by Karen Taylor

I recently watched a little boy plunk himself down in the middle of a very busy Farmer’s Market parking lot.  Arms sternly folded (you know the look!), he had a very unhappy face and clearly was not planning on budging.  Every child tries something like this during the preschool years.  The questions then become: Is it happening frequently, and does it matter?

I think it matters, because if meltdowns are a regular part of your life as a parent, it’s going to wear you down, and you might give up and put your child in school so others can deal with the problem.  Or you might end up with a pattern of yelling and punishing your young child, and then feeling terrible about it afterward.

Going back to the scenario, this little boy was sitting in the middle of traffic, and probably also getting dirty because the parking lot had recently been resurfaced.  His mom had many reasons for wanting this situation to end!  She said “Get up” a few times, and he just dug in deeper.  The situation was skyrocketing out of control.

And then she made the big mistake that will ensure that it happens again.

In desperation, she said, “Ok, then we’re going home now.”  Oh dear, that got his attention, because he really did want to go to the Farmer’s Market where he might ride a pony, get a toy, and get something to eat.  He didn’t want to go home and miss the fun!  But as soon as he got up, they didn’t go home.  Off they went to the Farmer’s Market because she had never intended to change her plans.  And the message he got is that his mom doesn’t mean what she says.

This mom has set up a situation that is very common.  Her little guy will pitch a fit again.  He knows his mom doesn’t really mean what she says because she doesn’t follow through.  In fact, it’s possible that soon after his meltdowns, she’ll reward him with a treat for being so good.  And then she will also wonder why it’s so hard to raise a child!

There is an easier way, but it involves some planning and a willingness to have one or two uncomfortable situations in order to have harmony in the future.  I think it’s well worth it, because it takes years to raise a child, and that’s a long time to suffer as a parent if your kids don’t believe that when you say something, you mean it and will follow through.

So that’s the key. No idle threats, no saying something you don’t mean just to get them to do what you want.  Kids are quick learners, and you have the power to determine whether or not they will listen to you.

Back to the parking lot.  Mom really wants to go to the Farmer’s Market, and she has already taken a lot of time to get the kids ready, drive there and get the baby out of the car seat and into the stroller.  She wants to buy her fruits and veggies for the week.  A lot is going through her mind as she spurts out in final desperation that they will not be going to the Farmer’s Market.   What a relief to her when her threat makes her son get up!  So, in her mind, it’s over and she decides she doesn’t have to go home after all, and off they go to get their shopping done.

She took what she thought would be the easy way, but it’s not.  There’s another way that sets the stage for a lifetime of easier parenting.  It’s gentle, respectful, and non violent. Let’s try it out on the Farmer’s Market situation.  If I could have mentored the mom on the spot, this is what I would have suggested to her after the meltdown:

*Give only one quiet and calm direction. In this case, it would be to get up and out of the way of traffic.  Since the child wasn’t accustomed to following his mom’s requests, she could have added the consequence:  “Get up and come to me now, or I will take you home and you will not go to the Farmer’s Market today.”   Eventually, you want your child to respond without needing a consequence, but when you are starting, it can help to explain what will happen.  You can view it as a second chance for beginners.

*Do not repeat your request. If the child did not respond (and the first time you try it, he probably won’t) I would advise you not to repeat the request. Instead, gently pick up your upset child, hold him close and quietly explain that because he did not listen to you when you asked him to get up, you will be going home (as you said you would).

*Follow through with what you said. Most children at that point will wail and plead and say they feel better and that they really do want to continue with the family’s plans.  They’ll promise never to do it again.  The temptation for all parents is to give in and go since it fits their plans.  But the key to success is to follow through with what you said: you are going home.  You can tell your child that it’s terrific that they plan to listen to you in the future, but you are going home this time as you said you would.  Be calm and loving, and not mad.

Note:  Once you return home, if there is another responsible adult available to care for your child, consider leaving the child with that person and then resume your plans for the day.

It’s a powerful lesson!  No yelling, no spanking, no bringing it up again. Your child will get the message that when you say something will happen, you will follow through with it.  And you will have a child who is more fun to have around, and your homeschooling days will be easier.

If this scenario sounds familiar to you and you’d like to break the cycle but need additional support, please send me an email and I’ll try to help with your situation.   Every child is different, and the rate of success might vary, but if the meltdowns have been caused by you giving in, then you may get dramatic relief, and that would make everyone happy!

I can be reached by email at

Karen Taylor provides regular homeschooling information and mentoring on Facebook and she is the director of Cedar Life Academy, a Private School Satellite Program (PSP) for homeschoolers in California.

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