• Julie Cresswell

3 tormenting thoughts which add to the stress when your child flips their lid - & what to do instead

Updated: Jul 3

Stressed Parent Child meltdown

When you’re faced with a conflict, outburst or difficult moment with your child, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself hit by a wave of emotion. This is often accompanied by some really unhelpful thoughts which add to the stress and rarely help you or your child. Thoughts can be powerful. In listening to lots of parents (and my own experiences) it often goes roughly like this:

Thought 1: “For the love of everything please just make it stop!”

Thought 2: “Oh s*** if it’s like this now, what will it be like when they’re older?”

Thought 3: “It must be all my fault. I’m a terrible parent and I’ve failed my child.”

Sound familiar? In these 3 stages of thinking you end up feeling lost and overwhelmed and doing anything but enjoying family life

It’s too easy to end up stuck and feeling like you swing between bribing your child or desperately avoiding anything which might set of an outburst - at all costs.

It sucks. Worst of all it also leaves you with a sense that you’re not helping your child either.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Here’s some simple, but significant steps you can take at each of these stages:

Thought 1: “For the love of everything please just make it stop!”

When you’re faced with the overwhelming urge to do anything to make it stop you’ve possibly found yourself resorting to strategies which just aren’t resting right with you – the shouting, bribing or whatever it takes to get out of this horrible moment. Only often it prolongs it.

What can you do instead? When you can see that tide of overwhelm about to hit you pause and breathe. Give yourself a moment to catch your breath to notice how you’re feeling and step back and survey the scene. Sometimes this means literally pausing events and physically stepping to a different environment before you even begin to address what is happening.

Rather than reacting to what is happening and escalating things further, buy yourself and your child time, to get past the wave of emotions. When you’re past that wave which makes everything feel catastrophic you are can begin to find a more considered response.

When your child’s outburst is public it’s particularly difficult as you can feel under the scrutiny of others. You don’t have to resolve everything in that moment, regardless of whether other

’s approve. Remember you’re aiming to respond and consider rather than react (unless it’s a matter of safety and immediate need).

What can help when your child has a meltdown

When you move from reacting to responding the odds are you'll get a much better outcome in the long term.

Sometimes you might need a few hours before you can properly address anything and for now it’s just best to get everyone calm. Calming down and fully addressing the issues are not necessarily one big step – often it takes multiple smaller steps .

Remember: Find ways to help you pause and breathe. Give you and your child time to calm before you problem solve so you’re ready to respond instead of react.

Thought 2: “Oh s*** if it’s like this now, what will it be like when they’re older?”

Whilst this may be a perfectly valid concern – what trajectory are you on – it is invariably a response rooted in fear rather than hope. Most parents tend fast forward towards a worst case scenario and in the heat of the moment end up trying to address, not the problem in front of them, but their fear of how big this problem may or may not be leading. This rarely puts you in a helpful state of mind or facilitates a positive resolution of the interaction with your child. In fact it probably just results in everyone feeling more heightened!

Your three year old’s refusal to put on their shoes does not mean they will become a teenage delinquent and your 6 year old thumping another child doesn’t mean they’ll end up in prison for GBH as an adult. Neither do your 8 year old’s friendships issues mean they’ll end up lonely, isolated with poor mental health. In the heat of the moment we can go to some pretty extreme places in our heads.

Stop dealing with the problem you don’t have and start dealing with the one that you do. What does your child need right now? How are they feeling? What is this current behaviour communicating to you about that?

Of course all the big problems start somewhere and it is important to be mindful but rarely in the heat of the moment does it help at all. In fact the odds are you’ll make it worse - as you catastrophize you become more emotionally heightened.

If, beyond the heat of the moment you have ongoing concerns about your child’s difficulties then address them when you are in a more rational frame of mind and you can clearly focus on what you child needs and how you can support them. This is where a sounding board can be so helpful.

Remember: Start with the problem you have before you address the ones you fear might exist in the future.

Thought 3: “It must be all my fault. I’m a terrible parent and I’ve failed my child.”

At this stage instead of thinking how to solve the problem you get distracted into thinking about what’s caused the problem - only not in which helps you understand the situation better or really serves any useful purpose.

Most parents default to “It’s all my fault and I must have failed.” This comes with a big dollop of guilt on the side.

When you’re feeling like you are a terrible parent and focused on blaming yourself you are heading into a dead end where your child is still feeling overwhelmed and you are too with them with nothing getting solved.

More helpful than parent guilt, focus

Instead of blaming yourself start to look at what the more immediate cause of your child’s distress might be and how you can begin to solve it. If there are longer term issues which you feel might be down to how you’ve handled things then blaming yourself and then continuing with the status quo is probably not going to help. The real question is what do you need to do to move forward from here? Is it resolve the past? Find new strategies? Try to understand your child better? Focus your energy on what will help not what leaves you stuck.

There are so many factors and influences upon our children and it would be crazy for us to claim credit for everything affects them.

Even if it were true it still leaves you in the same position and the same next question.

What can you do which will help? Stop looking to blame and start looking to understand and move forward. When you are kind to yourself the ripple effect is undoubtedly felt within your family.

What are you going to do about your child is that in order to move forward as a family?

Remember: Shift from blaming to understanding and throw in a big dollop of kindness for all of you too! Recognise you’re doing your best and then use your energy to problem solve and support your child rather than blame yourself.

These are small but mighty changes. Shifting each of these habits of thinking can feel like hard work as these reactions can be very ingrained. However, as you make those changes you will find yourself much better placed to find positive solutions for you and your child – ones which replace the fear, stress and overwhelm with hope and learning and growth. Definitely worth the effort!


If this is an area where you struggle and you're keen to make changes then coaching is a great tool for this - perhaps a quick free 30 minute chat or a one off 90 minute intensive session might be help make the shift you need. Follow the link to book a free initial consultation

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