An Epic Meltdown is a Parenting Opportunity

Epic Meltdown

Well, we had an epic meltdown this week – and oh, what a massive
opportunity to fail forward – for all of us! Here’s the story.

My son neglected to unpack his lunch box when he came home from school. It
wouldn’t be a big deal if it hadn’t become a more frequent oversight.

Keeping routines going is really hard for kids with ADHD

(seriously, ANYONE with ADHD!), so I understand the occasional lapse. But
it was happening just frequently enough that it was time to re-establish
the expectation and the structure. That happens, sometimes. No problem.

Unfortunately, my decision to reinforce our lunchbox-unpacking-structure
unhappily coincided with a teenager having a grumpy morning. The
combination was electric. My son became triggered before he ever got
downstairs, and – truth be told – I didn’t read the signs well enough to
take that into account before I continued.

I could have stepped back just enough to give him a moment – I could have
handled it at a different time — I could have done a number of things to
prevent the situation from escalating. At the very least, a little


would have gone a long way!

But I wasn’t paying close enough attention and probably wasn’t having the
best morning, myself. The results were… explosive.

For most of the “episode,” to be honest, I was holding calm, being kind but

But I was asking for

too many things at one time

when he was already in a somewhat triggered state – come handle the
lunchbox, acknowledge my direction, say yes ma’am (I’m a southerner – it’s
important to me!), get your breakfast. He came unglued. In retrospect, I
don’t really blame him – I was hardly setting him up for success.

When he responded with a “yes friggin ma’am,” (at least he didn’t ACTUALLY
use the F bomb!), I nearly lost it. Truly, I wanted to throw the lunch box
at him!

Thankfully, my momentary snap gave way to a clear consequence, and my
husband was there to run interference. With reclaimed calm, I lowered the
clenched lunchbox, clearly and respectfully removed cell phone and computer
privileges (with as little anger in my voice as I could muster), and the
energy shifted.

As parents, we want to do all we can (appropriately, of course) to
prevent meltdowns

, when possible. The last thing we need to do is to push our kids over when
they’re already walking on the edge of emotional control. There are a lot
of strategies we can use to do that effectively, and you can find many more
under the topic of

“Emotionality and Impulsivity.”

But sometimes, we need to accept that the best we can do is to navigate meltdowns (ours or theirs)
when they happen, defuse them as quickly as possible, and use them as
the learning opportunity they are. Because, let’s be serious… no matter
how well we manage our emotions, or work with our kids to manage
theirs, there are going to be days that meltdowns are just going to
happen. Welcome to being human.

The good news is that with every upset, with every tantrum, there’s an
opportunity… an opportunity to raise awareness, to teach emotional
regulation, to model reclaiming control, to empower our kids to become ever
more respectful of and responsible for themselves and those around them.

Rather than seeing every emotional outburst or tantrum as a “crisis,” we do
well to see them as

powerful opportunities to teach our kids valuable lessons

– and to learn a bit more, ourselves, as well.

So yeah, I got to practice what I preach. The “episode” opened the door for
a number of important conversations about self-regulation and the
challenges of emotional management, as well as a healthy debate about the
pros and cons of respecting social norms. (Now, he still doesn’t agree with
me about the value of saying “yes ma’am,” but at least he understands my
position more clearly, and my expectation stands firm.) I was able to hold
my son to consequences without continuing to make him feel “wrong,” and
reinforce reasonable expectations for

respectful communication

. None of this would have happened without the meltdown morning that
triggered constructive conversations.

Now I must admit I felt a little “off kilter” that week. It reminded me of
the years when meltdowns were quite frequent, and it left me feeling a
little drained. But I am grateful for the many conversations we’ve had, the
growth that’s taken place, the lessons that have become just a little
deeper ingrained. Yes, it would be nice if he were to learn lessons the
first time. But honestly, that’s just not going to happen with him very
often, and if he’s

better this week

than he was last, I count that as success!

So, next time a meltdown (yours or theirs) is un-avoided, for whatever
reason, I urge you to

make the most of it

! Use it (after the heat cools off!) as a chance to express your values,
teach coping skills, set clear expectations for the future, model
self-management, model taking responsibility for mistakes … the list could
go on.

Forgive quickly, and focus on the future, not the past. What do you want
your child to learn? THAT’s the true opportunity of an epic meltdown.

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