• Christina Van Starkenburg

How to Cope When Your Threenager has an Epic Meltdown


The other day my newly-minted three-year-old had a meltdown of epic proportions. This time it happened when we were at the swimming pool waiting for his lessons to start. He was playing in the little wading pool when a ball bobbed his way. Obviously, this meant it was now his, and the little girl who was playing with it no longer wanted it. I, cruelly, made him give it back.


At first his smile turned into a pout-y frown. Then he started to wail. His tears didn't even let up after the girl had moved on to other toys and he got his beloved ball back. He didn't even want to play with it anymore, but simply sat there for the rest of the time guarding it from other would-be thieves.


Honestly, I'm beginning to buy into this whole "threenager" thing as these meltdowns become more and more common in our house. I don't want to, because I know once I do there won't be a solution anymore, just one long year of annoyances and angry people.


I can't seem to help it though. No matter how many times I tell myself it's just like the "terrible twos" where he's acting out because he's stressed about something or simply trying to be more independent, I can't convince myself that it's true.


But here's the thing. Even though my brain doesn't want to accept the fact that his emotions still need to be met with love and not simply brushed off as the inescapable ups and downs of having a threenager in the house, he does still need me to be compassionate and loving.


So, in order to remind myself of that I came up with this list of ways to love my threenager on those days when I want to give him away. Hopefully, these items can help you too.


5 Ways to Love Your Threenager


Me Time

As I have mentioned before, taking time for yourself is super important. Like they say, you can't help others if you have nothing left to give. So take some time to relax and unwind. Even if your life is super busy, it is possible to find some time for yourself, and hopefully, once you've gotten some "me time" you won't snap at your child the first time they break down into tears after they've woken up in the morning.


Share Some Special Time

This idea comes from Kate Orson's Tears Heal: How to Listen to Our Children. The idea is that for 10 to 15 minutes you let your child choose the activity (as long as it's safe) and then you give your child your undivided attention. While you are playing or snuggling, they might open up to you about what's bothering them (or they might express it through their play i.e. their doll might be struggling to make friends or be away from her mommy).


Reframe the Situation

Jay Payleitner calls this "Grandma Spin" in Quick Tips for Busy Families: Strategies for Raising Great Kids and Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl call it "reframing" in The Danish Way of Parenting. What it means is that you focus on the positives when you're telling your child to do something, and you can use it to try and stop a meltdown before it happens and after (or during) a tantrum.


For example, bedtime has become a bit of a struggle in our home lately. I blame the sun and poor blackout blinds. Anyway, to help our son get ready for bed we often tell him "If you get your pajamas on quickly, we can read two stories before bed." So we focus on the fact that if he does something he doesn't like (put on pajamas) we can do something fun (reading all the books).


And, if you weren't able to stem the tears before they started you can still use reframing to help you deal with the situation. So instead of lamenting that my threenager is driving me up the walls because he won't put on his pajamas and go to sleep, I can focus on the fact that he is learning about reasoning (why should I have to go to bed if the sun doesn't?) and that he really is a great boy who usually goes to bed without any problems at all.


Use Time Ins

Sometimes your child needs to take a moment to calm down. That's where a time in can come in handy. During a time in you take sometime to sit with your child and talk with them about what happened and how they're feeling, empathize with what they're feeling, and gives them a chance to calm down.


Put Yourself In Their Shoes

If my son has taught me anything, it's that it's hard being three. Favourite clothes no longer fit, bones are growing and it hurts, and parents get strangely upset if you climb onto the counter to grab snacks from the top shelf. So the next time your child has a meltdown, ask yourself if there could be a different reason. Maybe this is simply a "broken cookie" incident (when they're actually upset about something other than what just happened, but the current situation brought those emotions to the surface).


While I wasn't ready to deal with my son's big emotions that day at the pool, I have been working on my own outlook of different situations and taking time to take care of myself. So, hopefully the next time my son takes a toy from someone else, I can meet him where he is and we can both get through the situation calmer and happier.

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