This post is written as part of the Round Table Discussions with Natural Parent Network volunteers. In an effort to discuss, support, and promote a kinder, more gentle world, we are taking an in depth view of various books. Our current book is Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life by Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. We hope you will join us with an open mind and a desire for change and growth.
Melt-downs, also known as temper tantrums, occur when a person, in this case a child, no longer has the resources or experience to deal with a situation. It is a literal cry for help. Picture your child saying, “I can’t deal with everything going on in my current situation and need you to help me.” It could be that the child is lacking in a physical need such as those for food, water, or sleep. It could be a lack of connection. It could just be that child is overwhelmed with all of the big feelings and doesn’t know how to express them appropriately. Whatever the reason, a melt-down can be a stressful situation for all of those involved, especially if you have the added pressure of an audience.
In her book, Dr. Markham discusses a technique to schedule melt-downs. To be fair, she makes many fine points with which I agree. Our children need a safe place to express all of these big feelings inside. They need to know that we are there for them. They need to feel connected with us. They need us to help guide them through whatever it is they are going through. They need to have their needs met. They need us.
However, I can’t agree with her idea of scheduling melt-downs. In her example, the parent spends time connecting with a child whom she knows is dealing with some big emotions. Then after a while, the parent says something they know will upset the child, such as that they will have to stop having special time soon, all in an attempt to trigger their child’s reaction. It is mentioned that this is so the melt-down can occur in a safe place, such as home, rather than out somewhere such as the store.
On the surface I agree that having a safe place to release emotion is important. However, it seems more that the scheduling of the melt-down is for the convenience of the parent, so that it occurs at a time and/or place which is deemed better. Parenting isn’t convenient, and we shouldn’t expect our children to schedule their emotions to make life more convenient for us. As I read this section, I realized that I may feel this is unorthodox merely because of the uniqueness of parenting my particular children, so I spoke with some good friends, including friends who have children with sensitivity issues and who are prone to melt-downs when their feelings overwhelm them. Those parents agreed that they would never want to use this technique for the one reason that bothered me the most: the technique requires the parent to intentionally provoke the melt-down, and hence the child.
I can’t, for the life of me, imagine having turbulent feelings or being on the verge of not handling life well to find my husband intentionally saying something for the sole purpose to upset me. Sure, you can say that the purpose was to release those feelings, but the perception from the person in the situation was that you just laid one more straw – the one that broke the metaphorical back, and you did it on purpose.
There are many ways to connect with our children and to help coach our children through expressing their emotions. We can snuggle and roughhouse. We can have special time together. We can talk with them and share our own struggles. We can meet their needs, whether those are physical or emotional. We can fill them up with love. We can support them and help them work through emotions in so many ways without intentionally poking the bear.