Five minutes ago I endured an epic meltdown with my three and a half year old. It was unnerving, awkward and frankly, really inconvenient. To boot, it's not the first "meltdown" today. This habit of "freaking out" has become routine the past two weeks and, it's killing me.
Truth be told, I recognize this as normal. Three year olds are like baby teenagers. They're not babies, but not kids... they're in between. The ability to understand emotion is there, but they cannot control those emotions. Not unlike a teenager, this three year old goes from calm and fun to psychotic, the-world-is-ending, emotional wreck. Choices cannot be made without irrational desires (i.e. I want to make a choice, but really I want both!) and the ability to fully verbalize one's thoughts is still lacking.
I believe this leaves both of us tired.
I can see the meltdown coming... typically if there is a disagreement regarding activity or limitations. I can also typically identify why we're having a meltdown...off-routine, tiredness, insecurity, not enough attention...the list can vary, but normally, there is a good reason why we're headed in this direction.
I can do my best to divert or distract, but the value of "seeing it through" is really important. So I gird up my loins, put on my "I'm-tough-but-calm" face and I stick to my guns (even though I'm shrinking inside, because hey, I've got my own issues!).
Normally the child would cry and admit defeat. But not lately. He's ready to fight.
It takes a good twenty minutes, typically involves a spank (ugh...break my heart) and reminders that once child has decided to act this way, all choices are up to Mom. I reward nothing. He is taken away from all fun activities and I repeat this phrase every time:
"When you act this way, you get nothing."
I insist he lay in his bed (or sit in a quiet place when we're not at home) for ten minutes (I point to the clock and give him a time when he can get out of bed), or until he is calm. Ironically, he usually falls asleep. This is good, because most of the time these meltdowns happen when kiddo is tired (coicidence!? I think not!).
The part that kills me? After waking, he always says: "I'm sorry for my behavior Mom. I was being SO naughty...". Slays me. And then I wonder, "Am I doing this right!?" Ugh...
We talk and snuggle and I reward his cuteness with something I KNOW he'll love (typically a movie or a game together). Then I remind myself this will happen again... because you know, he's learning to be a human. And not just any human... a really awesome one!