The effect of unconditional love is rapid and usually predictable.
How to Handle Meltdowns
A mother wrote to me as an event was unfolding live, in real time:
Mom: My eight-year-old is having an absolute meltdown here with me at home.
My sister just dropped him off with me after a trip to the mall.
She said he got super aggressive and violent with her, and I believe that—I’ve been there many times when he’s done that—but I’m also pretty sure that my sister was not loving to him, and now I don't know how to handle this.
Me: Hug him, hold him and keep telling him you love him before you even talk about the meltdown he’s having or what happened at the mall. Only talk to him about his meltdown when he's completely calm.
Mom: He is sitting in a chair next to me, but he won’t let me hold him.
Me: Reach over and just play with his toes while you tell him you love him. He’ll feel fairly safe with you touching his toes. When he lets you do that, put his feet on your legs.
Mom: Wow, it worked. If I try more than that, though, he kicks and pushes. He steaming mad at my sister. He says she was mean to him and grabbed him and wrestled him. But he's saying he hates me too because I made him go with her so I could get some work done.
Me: Play with his legs some more. Gently, not pulling at him. Tell him that later you and he will go and beat up your sister. Then watch his face. This is not disrespect of your sister. He’ll KNOW that. You’re just playing with him.
Mom: My sister told me he wanted to play on the escalator at the mall, and she told him no, and he kept trying to, so she had to "block him", but HE says she kept grabbing his shirt, which choked him, and then she pinned him down or something like that. I did tell him she was really not being loved, and he said she was an "idiot."
Mom: I told him what you said about beating her up, and he agreed and instantly calmed more. He asked what else we could do. He was also very curious who I was texting and getting all this advice from.
Me: Tell him that you could make her walk all day up the escalator that was coming down, which would be hard. And she couldn’t get out, because there would be barbed wire at both ends.
Mom: He smiled.
Me: Way to go. Then tell him that he could put little yapping dogs on the escalator, to bark at her and bite her ankles.
Mom: He giggled. Giggled. I don’t believe this.
My sister texted that eventually he ended up kicking or shoving his brother, my sister, her son, and a store employee.
What Causes Meltdowns
Me: Of course he did. NOBODY WAS LISTENING to him. Nobody ever listens to him. Only recently have you even realized how little you’ve listened to him, and how much he has been affected by your own pain, emptiness, and fear. So when he was being yelled at and pushed and disregarded, it all exploded from inside him. He couldn’t contain it. Of course he erupted.
Mom: He asked me who I was texting, and I said I was getting help from my parenting-daddy who was teaching me how to be a more loving mom. His face lit up with a smile. He instantly relaxed more and wants to hear more about what you will tell me. Now he’s letting me touch him more.
Me: SO funny. He feels more comfortable now that somebody is TEACHING YOU how to be a mommy. Kids love knowing that you need help, just like they do. Somebody is always telling them what to do. They don't see their parents listening to anybody. He was comforted by your humility in being willing to learn. He couldn’t have put it into words, but he was feeling all that. I promise.
Me: Tell him that I think he is THE MAN. He wanted to play around on the escalator, and THAT IS OKAY. IN FACT, IT'S BRILLIANT. He just didn't have people around him who understood that. And one day you two will go to a place with an escalator, when it's not busy, and he'll run up and down. And you’ll teach him to be considerate of any other people who are there.
From Meltdown to Melted
Mom: He's so much calmer and happier now, he has a such a big smile! He’s loving these ideas you’re giving me.
Me: Tell him that a hundred years ago, I was a little boy, and I ran up and down the escalators, usually opposite the direction they're running. So fun.
Mom: He asked what he could say to my sister when he sees her again.
Me: Tell him to say nothing. Let it all go. If she's bossy or snotty, he can say, "I'm going to call Mom, so she can help me know how to answer you." Again, no disrespect for your sister, just teaching him how to deal with difficult stuff. He's going to feel so empowered that you’re loving him and teaching him. But it's not AGAINST your sister. It's about learning life.
Remember that all this is about your delivery. You're not sympathizing with him. You're listening. You're not mad at your sister, just explaining that she doesn't know how to listen to him— especially with him being "the man" and all.
Mom: This is by far the best recovery from a meltdown I've ever experienced with him! Like a miracle. Now he’s sitting in my lap with his head on my shoulder.
Me: Nice work, mom.
Children who don’t feel loved are in PAIN. They hate that, and eventually they tend to either blow up or withdraw. Either way, their tender little souls die a little—each time. We can learn to love them.
Want to learn more?
Eliminate confusion and conflict with your children.