Parenting amid morning meltdowns: a PSA courtesy of a six year old

This morning was a mix of easy going and rough — that probably sounds pretty typical to you if you have young children.  One minute all things are going along just hunky-dory, and the next minute, you are in the middle of a catastrophic meltdown, often clueless about the origin.

That’s what our morning was like. We woke up with smiles, and five minutes later, there was a fight about socks. We got over that and went about the morning, more smiles and giggles and no fighting about breakfast. Then, another breakdown, with tears and raised voice (kiddo, not mom) about a half of a croissant I was packing in my lunch.  While the alarm of concern was raised at the first meltdown, now I really knew something was up. 

I got down at her level and here’s how that went:

Me: honey, it seems like you are having a tough morning and having a lot of feelings right now. Do you want to tell me how you are feeling?
Kiddo: No!
Me: Ok, well, do you want to tell me why you don’t want me to have that croissant?
Kiddo: No!
Me: All right, well, I’m right here if you want to tell me about what is making you have tears this morning.
Kiddo: It’s just that sometimes big kids and big people forget how hard kid life is.
Me: Oh, honey, I know. You are right. Sometimes we do forget how hard kid life is. That must be really frustrating for you.
Kiddo: It is because it makes it harder and harder and harder.
Me: I’m sorry that my forgetting how hard kid life can be is making it harder for you. What can I do to help make kid life be a little easier right now?
Kiddo: Can I maybe just have a hug?
Me: Absolutely. Let’s hug.

And we hugged. And then she ran off to put her shoes on. And I sort of stood there amazed, not really sure all of what just happened but realizing this was a moment of breakthrough.

It was also a moment that reminded me that when our kiddos are melting down, freaking out, and crying…those big emotions are coming from someplace BUT they may not be coming from a place they even are aware of or can articulate. That doesn’t make those feelings any less real.  It doesn’t make those feelings any less challenging to get through – for both the parent and the child.

children get frustrated too

Indeed, according to The Child Mind Institute, “tantrums and meltdowns are among the biggest challenges of parenting. They’re hard to understand, hard to prevent, and even harder to respond to effectively when they’re happening.” In the moment, especially when in any sort of time crunch (ahem, like morning-we-have-to-get-out-the-door-now-or-we’ll-be-late situations, remaining calm and not matching the emotional dis-regulation of the child can be especially challenging for parents (speaking from experience, here).

As parents we are reminded often that we are the best examples for our children and most parents have had the experience of realizing that their child is watching – at all times. This is true when they are in these heightened emotional moments as well. When our children are struggling emotionally, they are watching how we are handling and regulating our emotions – they are looking for us to be there for them, but also paying attention to how we are there for them. According to Tamsen Firestone, Editor-and-Chief of PsychAlive, “the child having a temper tantrum or meltdown experiences the entire world as being overwhelmed by the emotions that she is feeling. By showing the child that you are not only not overwhelmed, but not threatened or upset by these emotions, you are offering your child a way out of a state that she perceives as inescapable.”

As I stood there pondering our morning interaction and continuing to put together her school bag for the day, admittedly already running a bit behind schedule, I quickly reflected that this morning could have gone so differently, could have ended with us both in tears, frustrated, and heading off to our day apart angry and upset. By reminding myself to remain calm, by getting down to her level, and by giving her the opportunity to share with me her struggles, without judgment, shame, or frustration, we were instead moving through those hard and emotional moments and leaving our house with smiles. As I zipped up her backpack, she came trouncing back in (still with only one shoe on – #breathe #babysteps) and gave me another big side-hug before skipping back into the living room to finish with her shoes.

I wish I could say that all challenging mornings would end like this. I know they won’t, despite my best intentions — but this one did. So there’s that.

And truth be told friends, I have NO idea what really set her off. But that doesn’t really matter, does it?  All that matters in this instance was that she was struggling and that she felt heard and loved and supported. 

Miller, Caroline, and Child Mind Institute. “Why Do Kids Have Tantrums and Meltdowns?” Child Mind Institute, Child Mind Institute,

April, Elissa, et al. “What to Do About Kid’s Tantrums and Emotional Meltdowns.” PsychAlive, 2 Nov. 2013,