Preventing and Managing Meltdowns, Disappointments and Frustrations | Brainstorm Before the Storm
We live in the Midwest and this year’s tornado season has been something to behold. From complete destruction of communities to smaller, sporadic storms, we’ve followed the weather more closely than usual this year.
However, one evening as we watched something on Netflix, the local tornado sirens went off. Since we weren’t tuned into the local channels, we hadn’t realized severe storms were on their way.
We were completely unprepared.
We hurried to the basement, in our pajamas, no blankets, nothing to help us through an extended time in waiting, or, God forbid, an actual tornado from which we needed to recover.
The next evening, knowing storms were in the forecast, I spent some time preparing in case the sirens sounded again. I made sure I had on “real” clothes, filled up some bottles of water, had food bowls ready to entice our cats, and blankets on the floor in the laundry room to keep us a little more comfortable.
In short, I brainstormed before the storm and thought about what we might need.
I spent a few minutes in preparation, even though I wasn’t sure we’d need it.
But, sure enough, the alarms went off again that night, but this time I felt a little less vulnerable.
This time, I was ready for the storm.
Fortunately for us, the storm never came our way, but we were ready.
The next day, I realized this is the way we as parents need to prepare for meltdowns, disappointments, frustrations, and any of the myriad other challenges we face each day.
Some of these moments are unexpected, but we can predict others.
Using the approach of dealing with storms in the natural world, we can map out a strategy to deal with the storms our kids send our way.
So here is a plan of action for us to prepare ourselves ahead of time by brainstorming before the storm.
BRAINSTORM BEFORE THE STORM
Forecast | Know What’s on the Horizon
That first night of storm season, I’m sure there were other people in my neighborhood who weren’t at all surprised when they heard tornado sirens sounding. If we’d been watching the forecast, we wouldn’t have been surprised either.
But not having looked ahead at that weather prediction, we failed to notice what was, quite literally, on the horizon for so many others.
How many times have we, as parents, not watched the “forecast” for our kids and been caught unaware of the potential storms brewing?
A simple look at the schedule for your family gives you the opportunity to gather your supplies and be ready.
Let’s say you’ve picked your child up from school and suddenly remember you need something from the store to finish dinner. Before you blurt out, “We have to stop at the store,” knowing what the miserable response from your child will be, take a moment to plan a strategy.
Maybe you start the conversation by saying you know it’s going to be crowded at the store and hate to have to stop, so can they help you figure out a way to make it more fun. Giving your child an opportunity to figure out a way to help each of you through a situation you’re dreading gives them a sense of power in the situation, and they’ve prepared themselves.
Or, if you know you’ll be sitting in the doctor’s office waiting room for a well-child appointment, negotiate a reward ahead of time for a patient child who handles the wait.
By looking at your family’s forecast, you can see the situations where storms might arise and be prepared.
Use Language to Manage the Situation | Storm Watches and Warnings
If you live in an area with tornadoes, you’ve had to learn the difference between watches and warnings. If you don’t live with these frequent news flashes, you may not realize the important difference. (FYI, a “watch” means a tornado could form while a “warning” means take cover).
When we hear these different words, we know what’s up next.
We can do the same with our kids.
We can come up with our own phrases and codes to help manage the storms as they start brewing.
With my daughter, I often use the phrase, “Can you give me the good stuff?” before we enter a situation. This is our code for “do your best to manage yourself whatever happens.” It doesn’t always work, but it’s helpful.
If you find phrases you can plan ahead of time to use with your child that indicate an upcoming transition or need for certain behavioral expectations, these can serve as pre-emptive signals and help you both through the moment.
The key is to ensure both you and your child know what things need to “look like” when you use your phrase.
You can rehearse expectations to prepare your child for the times you may use the signal.
It’s no guarantee things will go according to your best laid plans, but it can help.
Be Prepared for the Storm | Stock Up on Supplies
When I was a little girl, my mom’s well-stocked purse would help her manage my sister and me during church services. Instead of waiting until we’d get fussy and potentially create a scene, she had prepared herself with gum, pencils, paper, crayons, and other items to keep us occupied.
She didn’t wait until we were in the church pew in the middle of the service to look around for ways to keep us busy. She prepared for the storm of two little girls needing to be quiet for an hour.
So when you look at the forecast for your day or week, gather those supplies (aka, activities) to help you through those crucial times.
Got a lot of errands? Bring a bag full of toys they haven’t seen for awhile and dole them out along the way.
A visit to an elderly family member? Have new sticker books or coloring pages stocked and ready to keep your child occupied.
You know what your child enjoys and what helps them at stressful times.
If you’re really organized and industrious, search Pinterest for “busy bags” and you’ll see posts for all kinds of busy bag activity ideas you can prepare ahead of time. Here’s a link from Happy Brown House for a great list of ideas to get you started.
Back in the day, my mom didn’t call them “busy bags” back in the day, but that’s basically what she created and they worked wonders for her. How else did she keep two preacher’s kids quiet multiple hours per week?
So prepare as if the apocalypse were upon you. Because when you’re in the middle of a meltdown in public, that’s what it feels like.
Know Your Escape Route | Prepare for Evacuation
In my “real” life, I’m a teacher and throughout the school year we practice for a variety of dangerous situations.
Whether it’s a fire drill or some other potential crisis, the biggest part of the preparations is showing students the escape route.
For us as parents, we need to formulate our plans for getting out of those times when we can’t manage to avert the storm.
Imagine you’re in the middle of shopping and the meltdown is on its way. You’ve tried all the aversion techniques, but there’s no stopping it. Maybe you can calmly move your cart to a corner that’s not so busy or find a cashier to let them know you’re coming back. Make a beeline to your car or restroom or anywhere you can diffuse the situation.
Hopefully, with a few minutes of breathing or a quick snack or something that helps everyone reset, you can get back into the store, at least for long enough to buy the essentials.
A situation that arises for me is my daughter’s school dances. By the end of the evening, the movement, music and her fatigue combine for a storm when it’s time to get out the door and go home. She, of course, never wants to leave early, but she’s a mess if we stay too long.
I’ve had to develop “escape routes” for us ahead of time. She knows herself and doesn’t want to have a fit in front of her friends, so she knows we can’t “close down” the school, like the last person at the bar who just will not go home.
She’s never ready to leave, but she has learned that once the first of her friends starts to go, we’re headed out as well.
By preparing to get out of the dance before she falls apart, we make it out with our dignity intact.
Debrief | Tweak Plans to Improve for the Next Storm
After that night in the basement being unprepared for the storm, I spent time thinking about what I needed to do better next time.
It’s unrealistic to expect to be prepared for every potential storm or to weather them successfully, even if you thought you were ready.
So what do you do when the dreaded meltdown or temper tantrum happened in the middle of the store and everyone watched you try to manage it?
You get yourself home, pour a glass of wine, remind yourself you’re a good mom, and reevaluate your preparedness plans.
Ask yourself what you could have done differently to have changed the outcome? Sometimes, honestly, the answer is “nothing.”
Part of parenting is realizing that there are times when there is no way to escape the inevitable rages of a toddler or the tumultuous emotions of your preschooler.
The parenting storms come at us so fast there’s no way to get out of their path.
Remember, we’re not trying to eliminate them all, just parent in a way that makes their arrival less frequent and less intense.
If we can manage that, we’ve got a lot to be proud of.
So if you think there are things you could do differently to guide yourself and your child through these storms a little more easily, then take a look at your preparations and see what you can do to improve the plans.
An additional step in this debriefing is to include your child in the discussions.
After the storms have raged and passed and the “all clear” has sounded, set aside a time to talk with your child about what could have been done differently to have avoided the problems.
Not every child is able to be self-reflexive in a way that acknowledges their own role in the situation. Sometimes this is simply a matter of their age.
As my daughter has gotten older, we have developed a strategy of looking back on moments that were especially difficult for us and talking about them.
The first step is to acknowledge what we as parents could have done differently. This allows our children to see that it’s not just okay, but important, to acknowledge our roles when things go wrong. Taking responsibility for our own contributions to the crisis goes a long way toward helping our children feel comfortable talking about their role.
With my daughter, I have often had to own up to not staying as calm in the middle of the storm as I need to. By admitting this and pronouncing my intentions to do better next time, she’s more comfortable talking about what she could do differently as well.
So open the dialogue with a mea culpa for anything you can improve upon, then ask your child to reflect and share anything they think would make things go better the next time.
By re-evaluating your planning, you can hopefully move you and your child toward a more effective storm protocol for the next roue.
Because you know there will be more storms, sometimes even before you’ve cleared all the debris and recovered from the last one.
Just like being prepared for the literal storms of life, brainstorming before the storms of childhood hit can make all the difference between surviving and thriving.
If a real tornado had hit our house that first night, I would have been wandering around barefoot in pajamas afterward with nothing to assist my family through the aftermath.
If a storm had struck us the second night, we would have been much more prepared.
So when your kids go to sleep tonight, muster up a few minutes of energy and think of what you can do to prepare for your tomorrow.
Look at the forecast and scan the skies for the potential storms.
Gather your supplies
Know your code words to discuss with your child.
Plan your escape routes.
Then debrief and re-evaluate your storm plan for next time.
I hope these ideas are helpful for you and that you can find ways to manage your storms.
If you do, share what you tried that worked for you and any other great tips you have.
And remember, even the most intense storms will pass, your child will eventually go to sleep at some point, and you’ll see their sweet face and sigh with love.
Or maybe not.
You may be sleeping, too.