Zero to meltdown in five seconds flat.
When she was a baby, she used to turn on the water works the second you handed her to anyone else. As soon as she was in your arms again… no more tears. But now she’s a little older, which means it takes a little more than a cuddle to calm her down. Sugary treats work better than a Band-Aid, but it’s not exactly the food-relationship you’re going for. Especially now that the heat’s on and she knows about the popsicles in your freezer.
Expand your repertoire.
It’s all about the D word today peeps: Distraction. Here are our top distractions for older babies during a non food/diaper/sleep related meltdown:
- Flashing lights. Different colours are great, but even switching lights on and off with some funny sound effects does the trick.
- Spinning mobiles. The younger the baby, the more the black/white contrast preference.
- Ceiling fans. Our babies used to giggle and talk to ours even when stationary; it was a real treat when we actually switched them on!
- Wind. Blow in her hair à la Superman to turn her frown upside down. Maybe a little gentler than Superman.
- A theme song. You’ve got a fave ballad, and so should she. The earlier you start singing it when you cuddle, the faster she’ll feel calmed by the opening refrain as she grows. Choose your lullaby wisely – you maybe won’t want to sing Raffi every time she bonks/scrapes/falls over the next year or three.
- Whispering. Amping up your pitch/volume only makes her react louder, escalating both of your frantic moods. Hushing your tones brings a nice dose of chill to the situation.
So ceiling fans and theme songs work great for the one-year-old crowd. Three year olds… not so much. The key with older tots is heading off the tantrum before it begins, when you first see that wobbly lip or defiant glare. Here are our top distractions for preschoolers during a non picky-eating/toilet-power-struggle/nap-refusal related meltdown:
- Putting pen to paper on her behalf. We know – this sounds like a waste of time. But we’ve used it in all kinds of situations (from “I know you want to buy all the toys, sweetie. But we only have enough money for one thing and have to get a birthday present for your cousin. Should we make a list of everything you wish you could buy?” to “Of course you should be the one to flush the toilet after you’ve used it. Would it help you feel better if we write it down for next time?”). Providing we’re sympathetic and not sarcastic, it just works. Every time.
- Bouncing issue-ownership right back to her. As in “I didn’t bring any money, did you?” when she asks for a cone from the truck that just happens to show up at the park every evening.
- Deflecting issue-ownership to a third party. Saying “I know you don’t like zucchini, but that’s what the farmer brought us this week,” is simply stating the facts. Note that this is only okay if it’s actually true. We’re all about honesty, so while drive-through anecdotes of “No honey, Tim Horton’s doesn’t actually make donuts on Mondays,” sound hilarious and shortcut a solution in the short-term, they’re a set-up for mistrust, disrespect, and children who lie right back atcha.
- Changing the topic to the closest object of her affection, for example, “Is that Pinkalicious over there? Want me to read it?” If it’s a real problem, this won’t make her forget. But it’ll distract her long enough to bring her back from the edge, so you can actually discuss her issue rationally.
- Reminding her about a book you’ve read and how one of the characters dealt in the face of adversity. Re-enacting when she’s in a good mood will make her less likely to shut it down when she’s not. Mouse Was Mad and Howard B. Wigglebottom are a couple of our faves.
- Giving an ultimatum. If she’s overreacting and nothing else works, go for it. A little “Can you still walk or do we need to go home?” will probably snap her out of a post-playground-tumble-funk, and a more general “Can you stop crying or do you want to go to your room to calm down?” works when you don’t feel like placating a drama queen.
If you want to take it up a notch, create a calming pictogram, like we did when our oldest was four. Armed with magazines, scissors, and glue, we cut out anything that inspired him, and collaged it all together. He chose images of children reading, crafting, playing, cooking, and, of course, watching TV. If he was starting to go off the deep end, we’d pull out the “Can you think of a way to feel better or do you want to look at your chart for an idea?” card. He quickly got into the habit of figuring out his own best distraction. Now when he’s having a rough day he heads straight to his “office” to write/draw/read/Lego, and after a little while, returns chilled out and ready to re-engage.
You can’t solve all her problems. Teaching her a variety of coping mechanisms sets her up for the day when you’re not around to give her a hug. And when that day comes… might be a good idea to have your own feel-better-chart on hand. Along with some tissues.
Email us if you want to know any of our munchkin’s theme songs or are also feeling mixed emotions about the first day of JK… before school’s even out for summer!