About a month ago, I was at an airport and I stopped to get something to eat before boarding. There was a mother behind me with a little girl in a stroller, probably about one year old, and a boy who looked about three. The boy was crying. The mom was clearly traveling alone. Her arms were full and she couldn’t find whatever she was looking for in her diaper bag. Suddenly, she just let loose toward her son. “You’re not acting like an adult! You told me you’d be good! Why can’t you ever behave?!”
Everyone was just aghast at the sight of this mother melting down at the airport, and all I could feel was the shame that this little boy was feeling. I wanted to say, “Well he’s not acting like an adult because he isn’t one!” Instead, I took a deep breath, turned around and asked, “Do you need some help? Can I get your coffee for you?”
It’s easy to judge, and we’ve all been there. We love our kids. Our kids love us. But as parents, we have moments when we feel exhausted and exasperated. When we don’t deal with our emotions in a healthy manner, we can become frustrated—resentful even. Meltdown time! But melting down doesn’t have to be the answer.
It’s important for us to be able to recognize what we need and when we need it. This will help us avoid moments like these in our own lives.
Nurture and nourish yourself. This doesn’t necessarily mean having a girls’ night out. It doesn’t even have to mean taking a long time out of your day to change and go to the gym (although if you can swing it, go for it!). Just taking a bath or a quiet moment to yourself in your backyard where you catch your breath and get some fresh air can recharge your batteries.
Spend time with other adults. Kids are wonderful. But they can also be depleting at times. Parenting can be isolating, so take the time to interact with adults regularly.
Set realistic expectations for yourself. Running errands with children is hard, and that’s an understatement! See if you can swap off with a friend who also has kids so you can take turns running to the mall, or the pharmacy or the grocery store.
Keep a journal. I’m a proponent of journaling, even if it’s just a few notes. There’s scientific evidence that journaling can really help with the serotonin levels in the brain and bring on feelings of happiness and calm.
Plan ahead when you can. If you can cook your meals on the weekend and put them in the freezer, you’re that much farther ahead of the game. Now when it’s time to get ready for dinner, you can actually relax with your family.
Identifying the roots of your feelings of anger and resentment, otherwise known as emotional intelligence (EQ), can make a huge difference in your emotional well-being. Furthermore, incorporating some of the practices we’ve discussed can significantly reduce stress levels and anxiety.
Taking care of yourself and learning strategies for expressing your emotions in healthy ways not only helps you, but it sets the stage for your children to feel understood and validated as well. This combination can really become the key to reducing—or eliminating—meltdowns.
Denise Daniels is a Peabody award-winning broadcast journalist, parenting and child development expert and author who specializes in the social and emotional development of children.