Dear Ashley,

What is the best way to handle three year old meltdowns especially around transitions from play to something like dinner?

Dear Sweet Mama,

I feel you! I can feel my heart starting to race thinking about all those times my kids refused to get into the carseat to go to daycare and I really needed to get to an important work meeting on time. The pressure of wanting to be kind to my child and give them the space they needed harshly butted up against the reality of external pressure and real world demands. I can see myself yelling in frustration and fear and even pushing them a little too hard down into their carseat. This haunts me still but it was also a turning point for me to become more conscious. I knew I didn’t want to be this way. I knew my child couldn’t understand how this tantrum was affecting the domino of things that were depending on me getting to work on time, nor did they care. I can still feel the painful pull of trying to balance what my child needed and what was necessary about what I needed to accomplish.

I can sense the empathy you have for your child in knowing that this time is in fact a transition and not a demand. I can also sense the frustration around knowing certain things make other things go more smoothly and when those fall apart, other things do too. Culture has taught us that we need to keep everything in control, that as parents we need to manage all the things in order to be seen as good parents. When our kids defy our management of a given situation, we are fragile because we feel things are out of control. And when things are out of control, we feel fear. In this way of being, we are focused on quickly getting things back into control so we feel less fear rather than tending to the unmet need that our child is looking for, connection and the knowing that they are loved. If our child doesn’t go along with what we need for things to go smoothly, we feel our own anxiety around what could happen and we miss the opportunity for connection with our child which more than likely escalates and makes the tantrum itself longer and harder. We make the mistake of looking to control the symptom rather than tending to the cause.

Culture also teaches us that tantrums are bad. We even call it the terrible twos and now threes. What if we flipped the narrative to understand that tantrums are good? What if we knew that a child who is tantruming is feeling safe to release emotions from the body that otherwise stay in us into adulthood? What if we saw tantrums as a beautiful release of stuck energy? What if we were taught that a tantrum helps our child stay connected to their own authenticity and learn to voice their needs rather than being an act of defiance? What if we saw a tantrum as an opportunity to show our child that they are loved no matter what their state of being is. We wouldn’t try to control the tantrum, we would allow it. We would support them through the release of this energy.
Children cannot control their tantrums. They do not have the ability to self-regulate. They may be tired, they may be hungry, they may just really want to focus on something they are mentally trying to figure out. This comes at inconvenient times for us as parents and it is no doubt hard.

What do they need? Do they need to be held? Do they need more time? Do they just need to just let it out? Can they eat dinner a bit later? What can you surrender? How can you suffer less around the thing you are wanting to control? How can you love through the uncomfortable behavior rather than trying to control the thing you want them to do? This is an energetic shift that I know works.

Take a breath.
Let go.
Be present.
Let them know that you are right there with them.
Validate the feeling. “I understand, it is so hard to leave something when it is fun.”
See the good.
Be kind.

You can do this! And your relationship will be the better for it.