Not dealing with your child’s meltdown well? Here’s why.

Lisa MillardBeacon Education Services, Beacon Family Services, Family Relationships, News

You need to be out of the door immediately in order to keep everyone on track for the day and you’ve just noticed your child does not have their shoes on. You’ve lost count of how many times you’ve asked them to get ready and then it happens. Before you know it, you’re saying things you don’t mean in a tone you didn’t intend to show and now everyone is upset.

One of the first things we talk to parents who are dealing with challenging behaviours at home about is why a child might have a spectacular meltdown. In sessions with parents, we talk about how the brain works and how children communicate through their behaviour. If children think we don’t understand them and they feel they are not getting what they think they need – think of when you refuse you child another biscuit – we can see children responding with a meltdown. For children have to learn to trust their parents know what they need, how to keep them safe and can help them manage stress.   

Inevitably, after talking through why a child may behave in a particular way, parents usually feel guilty that they weren’t able to ‘hold it together’ better for their child. They wish they could have been patient for 5 minutes more about that extra biscuit or those shoes. It’s at these times I remind them that we all have the same brain structure with the same instinct to fight off things that make us feel vulnerable or threatened. It’s not unexpected that our child’s uncooperative behaviour can sometimes stretch our capacity remain calm and in control.

We all have a point where we can’t stay calm or remain patient or accepting. Just like our children, we can be pushed outside of our tolerance levels. In moments when we are scared of not achieving our goal – be it getting a biscuit or getting the children to school on time – our thinking brain goes off line. In that moment, instead of thinking reasonably, we act or react and do only what is necessary to survive.

When our children are having a ‘meltdown’, the best thing a parent can do is to stay calm and patient so that their child can return to a calmer state. However, this is easier said than done. As parents, learning to recognise that we all have a window of tolerance helps us think about how we cope with the inevitable pressures that come with being a parent. It is the role of the adult to take responsibility for the times we ‘flip our lid’ (as it is referred to by renowned psychologist, Dan Siegel) and to model how to repair relationships with our children. This shows that we care and support one another. You can see Dan’s explanation of the science behind it below. 

Every parent I have ever met, including myself, has experienced a ‘flipping your lid’ moment. Parenting can be stressful and challenging. Luckily, there are some things you can do which can help you remain calm and in control.

  1. Remember that “flipping your lid” can happen.  It can be a sign that you are experiencing a high level of stress and may need to make some space for yourself.    
  2. Breathe. If you feel you may be losing control, take a few deep breaths to slow down your heart rate. This will send powerful messages to your brain that everything is well. 
  3. Call on someone in your support network to help you take a step away.  Learning to accept you have a window of tolerance helps you work out when you need to call on this support.
  4. Apologise. This shows your child that even when you have been angry and upset you still love and care for them. It shows that you value your relationship with them far more that any disagreement about behaviour.   

For more information about our work at Beacon Family Services, a not-for-profit working with families, schools and within the community, visit our website or email us at