You absolutely know when it’s coming. We parents are pretty good about knowing when a nuclear meltdown is about to happen. We can accurately read the warning signs being broadcast loud and clear.
Maybe it’s in their eyes, perhaps it’s the little behaviors that you see starting to brew, or potentially, it is a certain set of circumstances that always sets it off. It could be leaving a fabulous birthday party, saying no to a second snack, or turning off electronics to get ready for bed.
Whatever it is, you know exactly what is about to happen in advance of the destruction. For my children, it’s going back to school after a break. I know exactly what to expect that first morning back, and it’s not fun.
When we as parents can predict these trouble spots, we can support our children to mitigate the situation. This helps our children to plan ahead and problem solve so they can be prepared for what is to come.
1. Identify the Problem
First identify the potential pit fall. Generally, problems occur when something less preferred (i.e., going home from the party, restriction of a second snack, going to bed) is about to happen after something much more preferred (i.e., crazy fun birthday party, eating delicious food, or screen time).
2. Be Prepared
Prior to having your child engage in that preferred activity, discuss the less preferred activity. For example:
“Before we get to the birthday party, just to let you know we are going to play so many games, have so much fun, and stay until after cake. Once cake is done, we are going to go home.”
“I am happy to give you a snack right now. But just so you know, I am going to give you just one because dinner is in about an hour. So, there is just one snack and that’s it for now.”
“Before I turn on this video, I want you to know that when it is over, it is time for bed. So right when this is finished, we are turning this off and brushing teeth.”
Try not to end any of these above statements with, “ok?” These should not be questions that you are asking your child’s permission to do, rather you are providing a clear outline and statement of the plan of action.
3. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Have your child repeat the conditions before that preferred activity begins and offer reminders as necessary. For example:
“What are we going to do after we finish cake?”
“How many snacks are you allowed to have now?”
“What is going to happen once the video is over?”
If there are activities that are time-sensitive, you can offer reminders, “five more minutes until this episode is over, then time to get ready for bed.”
4. Follow Through
Once you have set out the guidelines, follow through with the outlined plan. At first your child may try to negotiate for more, but if you are consistent and follow through, she will learn that once the outline has been set, the plan will be followed. Give your child lots of high quality praise if she follows the plan. If the plan did not go as well as expected, follow through. That is, leave the party, do not give another snack, or turn off the electronics and take her to get ready for bed. Over time, she will learn that tantruming did not get her more of what she wanted.
5. If Plans Need to Change
Of course, sometimes plans change and if they do, you should prepare your child for unexpected situations. If cake was served first at the party, pull your child aside and reassess. Let him know that since cake was served first, your family will be leaving after the magic show is over. Then have him repeat the new plan and continue with the fun.
We know our children are not great at planning for the future. If you can help them look ahead and lay out the guidelines, it will assist them in managing their expectations of how they believe the future should proceed. With this in mind, we can set our children up for success by giving them the tools they need to be prepared and possibly, just possibly, avoid those nuclear meltdowns.