At what age should meltdowns stop?  I only ask this because my second-grader still seems prone to them on occasion.  My fourth-grader appears to be able to regulate frustration and other difficult emotions fairly well, but he is two years older.  Then again, I am forty, and I still have my moments.

The recurring struggle I am facing with my eight year old is his frustration while playing competitive sports with his brother or other, older neighborhood kids.  I understand his perspective.  I wouldn’t want to play a game where everybody is more skilled or coordinated and if I did, my frustration level would definitely creep up.

Last week, he was deep in the grips of an emotional breakdown, when I swooped into action.  My goal was to get him to calm down and help him get refocused on having fun.  He was having none of it.

In the heat of the moment, I don’t think I handled it all that great.  I ended up sending him to his room to give him some time to cool down.  When I finally did talk to him about everything, we tried to come up with a plan to help him deal better with the frustration he feels in the future.  I don’t know if it will work, but it felt good to hear him out and reconnect.

It occurred to me that I am always so ready to the change behavior that I don’t like, that sometimes by intervening, I actually make it worse.  And by intervening, I mean intervening with my frustration.  I have to take a step back and really look at the big picture.  Is my child overly tired?  Is he hungry?  Is he justifiably frustrated?  Maybe he is all these things and then some.  What if in the future, when the next meltdown happens, I let it ‘run its course’?  This isn’t always possible if I am in a public setting, but maybe I could do this when we are at home.  Is a meltdown really the end of the world?  Or is it my need to control the meltdown that is causing more problems?

Meltdowns are inevitable in the growing up process.  Since I can’t change this undeniable fact, I can only change how I respond to them.

Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent

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