Number 6 is eight years old.
He is my little guy who still gives me hugs and kisses, and he is the kid who will probably still give them to me when he is eighteen, twenty-eight, and fifty-eight years old.
He’s affectionate and intuitive and compassionate and empathetic.
He will be make a great boyfriend and husband one day for the kind of person who likes a doting, big-hearted, and adoring guy (which is most of us, right?)
But a sensitive person is not only sensitive on one side of the spectrum.
And when Number 6 gets upset, HE GETS UPSET.
Like REALLY upset.
When he gets angry, he gets very angry.
He has been known to use some choice words in a fit of anger. He knocks over chairs, says some really mean and hurtful things, and has cleared an entire shelf of its contents more than once.
He very easily spirals out-of-control when he gets frustrated or hurt or angry.
Ultimately, he pretty much always ends up crying uncontrollably.
He is just a super emotional kid, and he hasn’t quite figured out how to manage his emotions on his own.
If you told his teachers this, they would be shocked. He doesn’t exhibit this behavior in school.
And his meltdowns often happen after school when he is very tired. We all have more trouble controlling and managing our emotions when we are tired.
It doesn’t help that he has an older sibling who will sometimes push all his buttons on purpose just to piss him off.
This is typical older sibling behavior.
But what I want other people to know is that the meltdowns that escalate to Level 10 are also typical behavior.
I mean maybe not for like an eighteen-year-old.
But if you have a kid in the single digits who completely loses their sh*t and can’t rein themselves back in, they aren’t trying to make you angry. They aren’t trying to get a rise out of you. I mean maybe sometimes they are.
But really they are just asking your for help.
They need help managing their emotions.
They definitely know they are out of control.
And they feel pretty badly about it.
Have you ever had a moment like that?
Have you ever had a moment as a husband or a wife or a parent or just as a human being where you have totally lost your sh*t?
Where you have yelled or screamed or cursed or insulted your husband or your wife or your children or a stranger, even?
How did you feel afterward?
I bet you felt awful.
And you spent a decent amount of time beating yourself up over it.
In fact, I’d wager a pretty big sum of money that you did something years ago and you are still beating yourself up over it.
I know I am.
So my point here is threefold.
First, if you have a kid who has extreme reactions to being upset, you are not the only one. I promise you.
Second, if you have a kid who has extreme reactions to being upset, you do not need to make him or her feel worse to really make sure they get it.
They get it.
Yelling, shaming, and punishing a kid for losing their sh*t isn’t going to make the situation any better. In fact, yelling at a kid who is already yelling simply results in two people yelling.
It doesn’t model how to manage emotions calmly in a moment of frustration or anger.
It models just the opposite, in fact.
Think about it. Imagine if you had a blowout with your husband. You said some super shitty things. And when you stopped to take a breath, what if instead of firing back at you your husband just looked at you and said, “I could really use a hug.”
Have you ever been so upset and what you really needed was just to be reassured?
To be told that even though you had said some hurtful stuff you were still loved?
I know that might not happen too often.
But it might if we experienced that as a kid.
How many arguments would be diffused?
This strategy works with your kids.
When Number 6 has a meltdown, I look for a window. And then I ask him, “Do you need a hug?” or I say to him, “I could really use a hug.”
Sometimes he’s ready for a hug right away.
And it’s works instantaneously. It helps him calm down instantly.
Other times he tells me to get away from him or yells, “NO!” or something along those lines.
And then I tell him, “When you are ready, I could really use a hug. I’m going to go into my office, and you can let me know when you are ready to give me that hug.”
And then I leave the room.
That is also pretty effective at diffusing a freakout.
Not fanning its flames by giving it any attention.
So this is how I handle Number 6’s meltdowns.
And something interesting is happening.
About a month ago he had a big one.
He was crying hysterically and he couldn’t get a hold of himself, and in tears and sobbing he came to me and he said,
“MOMMY!” sniff, snort, hyperventilating inhale “I – snort – need – snort – help – snort – calming – snort – down!”
“Do you want a hug?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he answered through sobs.
And he melted into me and then we sat on the couch for about five minutes until he was calm.
He looked at me and said, “I’m sorry for getting so mad, Mommy.”
He was getting it. He was developing self awareness. He was asking for help calming himself down.
And he was showing remorse.
Without being humiliated or punished!
Eventually we want to get to the point where he can calm himself down when he’s upset. But this was a big step!
A couple weeks ago he had another meltdown. This was precipitated by a sibling pushing some buttons.
He got himself pretty worked up.
I could have yelled at him. I could have threatened him. I could have punished him.
But that wouldn’t have helped him find a way to calm himself down. And that is really what we want in these situations.
Not to make our kids feel horrible about themselves (they already do in these moment), but to help them find ways to regain their composure.
In this instance he really needed to get away from him brother. But that can be hard for an eight-year-old to remember in the heat of the moment.
So I told him I’d go up to his room with him.
We walked upstairs. He cried the whole way.
When we got up to his room, he threw himself on his bed.
“I’M SO TIRED, MOMMY!” he wailed. “I JUST WANT TO GO TO SLEEP.”
There it was. The exhaustion response.
I asked him if he wanted me to lie down with him for a few minutes.
He silently nodded his head yes.
So I curled up next to him, and in about five minutes he was sound asleep.
This was another victory.
He connected exhaustion and his meltdowns — on his own — and he is learning that maybe sometimes when he loses it, what he really needs is sleep.
When we can look at our kids meltdowns through this lens — the lens that they are already feeling pretty badly and that they are not in need of punishment but in need of help — we give them a much better chance of finding ways to deal with being upset. Healthy ways to deal with being upset.
And imagine how healthy their relationships they can be when they are older — how this will benefit them as a husband, a wife, a parent, and a human — if we give them this gift of self awareness, self-reflection and self-regulation when they are children!
The next time your kid goes into meltdown mode, try this.
Instead of shaming, threatening or punishing them, try helping them.
Because we all need help sometimes.
And once we learn to help ourselves, then we find ourselves in the position to help other people.
Then the cycle of helping continues.
And imagine how great the world would be if we all grew up knowing it was okay to ask for help, and in the process learning how to give it.
I imagine that would be pretty great.