By Natasha Daniels
Meltdowns. Not fun.
Some children have more intense meltdowns than other kids their age. If you have one of them, you know what I am talking about. These children don’t have mild tantrums, they have MELTDOWNS! These meltdowns can last not just a few minutes, but hours.
Do you hear me? Hours!
Children have meltdowns for lots of reasons. Usually it is a culmination of things that have amassed into the perfect storm. They might be too tired. Too overstimulated. Too overwhelmed. Or your “No” has pushed them finally over the edge. Whatever the cause, the fact is usually the same—they have a hard time regulating their emotions, so they meltdown.
In my child therapy practice I suggest parents make a break tent—a tent where your child can take a break.
A break from the fighting. A break from the overstimulation. A break from the sensory overload. A break where they can learn to accept the “No” that was dealt to them. No, it is not going to magically fix your child’s anger, but it is another tool to add to your parenting tool box!
The first step in helping your child learn how to self-regulate is to remove yourself from the battle. Your child needs to learn how to calm themselves down, and if you remain there fighting, talking, soothing and begging your child to stop crying, they can’t do that for themselves.
Instead, tell them that they seem very angry and that they need to take a break in their tent. Children will most likely not want to go to their tent voluntarily at first. You can give your child two choices (over the screaming):
1. Go to your tent and take a break
2. Stop crying
If your child is in the throes of a meltdown I am betting they won’t choose either option (sorry I am just a realist). I usually recommend that parents keep the tent in the child’s bedroom. You can’t force your child into the tent—that would defeat the purpose of it being a safe, comforting place—but you can escort them to their room.
If you make your break tent just right, your child will most likely choose to go into their tent down the road. They might even use it proactively before they have a meltdown. Now wouldn’t that be nice?
There will be some kids who may not take to the idea of a break tent. Just like any parenting approach some things work and some things don’t. But, you won’t know until you try.
Okay, let’s stop all this chit-chatting and get down to business. How can you create the best break tent possible? It is very easy and definitely not rocket science.
Here are some simple steps:
Find the perfect tent, space or closet for your break location.
Some children have bunk beds with space underneath the top bunk, while other children have large closets that they already love to hide in. If you already have a perfect space, you do not need to get a tent.
In a perfect world you would like your area to be:
1. enclosed on all sides
2. cozy (whatever that might mean to your child)
Make your tent cozy with lots of fuzzy pillows and a blanket. You want your child to snuggle up in their tent, therefore the cozier the better. Get soft pillows to put on the floor of the tent (I like fuzzy pillows that are super soft to the touch). Add a blanket, as some kids fall asleep from exhaustion after their meltdown. The more inviting to get a potential nap in is even better!
Have your child help you decide what they would like in their break tent.
You want to fill your break tent with items that will help your child calm down and reset. Here are some suggestions on what that might be. Go down this list with your child and see which ones they prefer. Maybe they have ideas that are not listed? That is even better!
Place a small, unbreakable light in the tent. You can get some of those battery-operated push lights or a portable night lamp that they can grab when they go into the tent. This helps soften and warm up the break space.
You can put wireless bluetooth headphones and an MP3 player with your child’s favorite music in the tent, or include noise cancelling headphones for those kids that want complete silence.
You can have your child pick out their preferred aromatherapy spray and make their tent smell good.
If your child wants to get their anger out, it can be nice to fill up the tent with some ways for them to channel their aggression. Stress balls are definitely a start.
Some kids want to be destructive when they are angry. Leave construction paper and crayons in the tent. Some kids will want to rip up paper, scribble with crayons or draw out their feelings (eventually).
If your child loves stuffed animals, have them pick out a few that will live in their break tent. Some kids find great comfort in their stuffed animals and will find it soothing to be surrounded by some of them.
Some children get comfort from toys that address their sensory needs. You can place various sensory toys that appeal to your child’s particular sensory issues.
Don’t forget to involve your child in the making of the break tent. When it is ready to go, explain to your child that they can go into their tent whenever they want. Let them know that you will prompt them to go to their tent when they are really upset, as this is a great place to calm down and it is not a punishment.
Do you have any great ideas on what to include in a break tent? Leave a comment and let us know!
*Blog originally published here at Anxious Toddlers, and re-published with author’s permission.
Natasha Daniels is a Child Therapist and a mother to three vibrant, challenging and insightful children who keep her on her toes! She has spent the last 15 years working with toddlers in her practice and helping families with parenting issues at Hill Child Counseling. She is a Clinical Social Worker and has received her post-graduate training in infant and toddler mental health at The Harris Institute. She is one of only a handful of child therapists that offers a specialty in toddler mental health and who has a practice that offers counseling to families on toddler parenting issues. She spends half her week in her practice and the other half of her week soaking up the innocence of her children and enjoying the simpler things in life! Natasha has written for Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and has her blog, Anxious Toddlers. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and be sure to check out her book: How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler.
Editor: Dana Gornall