Melting into a Meltdown

It is beginning to warm up outdoors and the ice and snow of winter is melting away. As much as I love the springtime, this period of thawing transforms the once beautiful, contained shapes (hanging icicles and peaked drifts) to messy, undefined mud and slop. And that I do NOT like.

As children we learned (both through teaching and observation) that objects and matter melt when the temperature heats up. As adults we can say that emotional melting has some definite similarities, often taking place when situations ‘heat up’, and sometimes turning our lives into a sloppy mess!

Here are a few definitions of the emotional meltdown (that, unfortunately, doesn’t limit itself to the springtime).

*A rapid or disastrous decline or collapse of emotions, feelings, or passions.angrychild2

*A breakdown of self-control.

*When a person freaks out, cracks, or loses control of themselves.

At every stage of development, it is important to know how to cope with emotional meltdowns – both your own meltdowns and those of others. A few questions (posed by Megan Rice of have been helpful in learning to manage those out-of-control feelings that surface from time to time.

Question 1: What are you feeling?  It’s good to start with identifying the emotion. Believe it or not, this can be the most difficult task. Keep a list handy if necessary. (Google ‘images for list of emotions’ for easy reference charts.) And the old stand-by “upset” is not valid for every incident, friends! I’ve found that having a visual chart (naming and picturing facial expressions) is really helpful for younger children. Are you feeling frustrated? disappointed? sad? misunderstood? afraid? (You may ask them to “point to the face that shows how you feel.”)

Question 2: What caused you to feel this way?  Identify the facts that led up to the feeling/meltdown. Be careful not to let this becomeangrychild an opportunity for blame or excuses. (He made me so mad…!) For example, a child may be crying and upset because “The boys get to stay overnight at Grandma’s and I don’t.” OR I may be upset that the meeting I traveled to was cancelled without my knowledge.

Question 3: What is the truth about this situation?  A little objectivity can really help reign in overboard reactions. For my above example, I might share with my child “Yes, that’s true. But last month you had a turn for a sleepover at Grandma’s, didn’t you?” OR I might tell myself “maybe they tried to contact me and couldn’t get through, or maybe a last minute emergency caused the cancellation. In any case, I’m sure they didn’t let me drive all the way here unnecessarily just to be mean to me and waste my time!”

Question 4: What is a good response to this situation? Finally we address the degree of the reaction. To my child, “It’s okay to be disappointed, but crying for 45 minutes because you don’t get to go tonight is probably too much. Let’s take a little time to be sad, and then plan something fun to do at home.” OR to myself, “Well, now I have some free time that I wasn’t planning on. What would I really like to do with the extra hour or two?”

Remember that emotional responding is not wrong. It is normal and healthy. Being created with a wide range of emotions is a wonderful thing. To be able to laugh and cry and fight injustice and celebrate success is a gift. Feeling out of control in the emotional arena, though, is not.

Work to recognize and not minimize the significant events: the pain of betrayal, compassion for the hurting, loss of a loved one, etc. And work to recognize and appropriately lessen the focus on the minor events in life that don’t need to be over-emphasized: the dollar-tree toy that broke, no dessert tonight, etc.  It is not okay to ‘bottle up’ our true feelings! But neither is it okay to ‘dump them’ on everyone else. And unless we are taught proper ways of working through identifying and dealing with our emotions, we will often not handle them in a healthy way.

A wise woman starts with herself, in this area of life, as in so many others. Have you ever really listened to the emergency plan from the friendly airline-attendant? She reminds all travelers to ‘secure your own oxygen mask first, begin to breathe normally, and then tend to your children or significant others.’ Not only does this 3-step process make air travel a happier and safer experience, it also makes LIFE TRAVEL much more successful!

Use this same format in emotional meltdown management. Practice answering the four questions yourself {1. What are you feeling?  2: What caused you to feel this way? 3: What is the truth about this situation?  And 4: What is a good response to this situation?} and then teach it to others.

Secure your own emotional management system first. Breathe normally. And then tend to your children or significant others.


In need of specific help just for Mom? is looking at Moms and anger

… and how to deal with it appropriately.

You’ll find several interesting articles there on the age-old problems

Mommies have faced for millennium. You are not alone!

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