Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Meltdowns or Tantrums? My approach to parenting

This image came up on my newsfeed on Facebook profile. I shared it on my profile and it elicited interesting discussion from a few people. The discussion has inspired a blog post. So here goes.

I believe children often have tantrums as a result of not feeling heard, listened to or respected. It's not about getting their way, so to speak. A child needs their parents to be the bigger, stronger, wiser and kinder person and step in to help their child with their big emotions. I know, I was a child once and I remember how vulnerable I felt. The reason I had meltdowns or tantrums was because I hardly ever felt listened to or respected by my parents, my Father in particular. I needed someone to step in and help me understand what my emotions were and how to deal with them. It was not about me getting my way. It was about me needing my parents to be bigger (be the adult), stronger, wiser and kind which often they weren't. They sought to discipline me to get be to stop the loud attention drawing (more so because they themselves were uncomfortable) behaviour by band-aid punishment,e.g. punitive. It did nothing to help me learn about emotion management, discussion, mutual respect and compromising. I learnt that my feelings didn't matter, that it was more important that the adults have peace and quiet. So I turned it all inwards to self-harm to cope with my intense feelings so they wouldn't come out at inappropriate times.

I do not want to raise my son how I was raised.

When my son has a tantrum or meltdown. I am there for him. I talk quietly to him. I don't try to shut him up. Yes, he has a tantrum because he wants something. Does he get it? No. I still put up boundaries but in a kind, empathetic and caring way. I show him that I am with him, that I care about his big emotions, that it is ok for him to feel them and express them. I am trying to figure out ways to teach him emotion management in healthy ways because I was never taught. I'm still learning how to manage my emotions myself. I try to show him love unconditionally no matter what he expresses or feels.

I think when a child is having a tantrum they desperately need empathy and love. They do not need harsh punitive treatment. This does not mean give them what they want. Boundaries can still be set but in a kind, caring, child friendly way.

I am not a perfect parent. I do not do this all the time but I sure try to. Because dammit I am NOT going to repeat the same abuse that was put onto me as a helpless, vulnerable child.

Meltdowns are different to tantrums definitely. However, I believe both need kind and caring support by the parent. I find that very difficult to do at times, in particular when I am low on spoons or already sensory overloaded by my son's crying/whinging. I have to manage my own triggers for various things (sensory, emotional, physical, etc). It is a real challenge for me to do those things as an Autistic parent and parent my son with what he needs. I am learning, changing, growing, gradually.

Some helpful links:

Anatomy of a meltdown

Meltdown versus tantrum - what's the difference?

Dr Laura Markham from Aha Parenting has some fantastic empathetic parenting articles and a free newsletter which I find very helpful. Albeit, somewhat overwhelming at times. I absorb what I can and apply the knowledge where I can. In time I will change how I parent and connect better with my son. That is my goal. To break the cycle of abuse and parent in a connected way.

A lot of parenting is owning our own trauma, and emotional reactions to our child and not projecting it onto them. This is my biggest struggle. To stop projecting my own emotional reaction onto my son. Dr Laura Markham says in one of her newsletters that our number one parenting responsibility is managing my own emotions. A challenge for us all.


You don't have to agree with all that I am writing about, however please refrain from name-calling, belittling, and bullying. That will not be tolerated here. Thank you.