One of the most helpful things to keep in mind when we are dealing with our children (who may be acting like the children they are) is to neither fight nor give in. Stay calm, be confident, and remain consistent.
But sometimes I do give in. I make the choice to give in. Might I be trying to stave off the further escalation of a meltdown already taking place? Yes. Isn’t this simply rewarding the tantrum? Not the way I see it.
If a child has a history of becoming particularly aggressive during a meltdown (with throwing things, breaking/destroying things, hitting, or biting, for example), then priority one is to keep him calm enough so that he is able to think clearly and make the best decisions he can in the moment.
It’s not reasonable to expect a child (age 2? 4? 6? 16?) to make good decisions while he or she is in meltdown mode. The meltdown needs to be over. Then clarity comes. Then better decisions can be made.
It’s similar for us as adults. The catch is that we often don’t have the luxury of taking all day to move through these steps. We have maybe 10 seconds to cycle through the steps (for example: calm down, then embrace clarity, then come up with a solution, then make a better decision) before we are called upon to show what we’ve got.
Many times, I have very little to show for. And I am certain that I am not the only one who is able to reluctantly admit this.
So what I have found is that it helps everyone involved (my child and me) if the first objective is to prevent a preventable meltdown. (Because meltdowns in a child are inevitable. It’s a wise thing, therefore, to eliminate the meltdowns that really don’t need to happen in the first place so that the most and best energy is being put into making those inevitable meltdowns really count for something—so that our child and our self can emerge from it having become better by it, instead of just having held on, which is all we can really do sometimes, hang on.)
The second objective is to de-escalate a meltdown once it starts happening. This doesn’t mean we give in, per se, right then and there. It just means that we do what we can do to keep ourselves under control—and this, in turn, helps us to calm our child down as quickly and as helpfully as possible once a meltdown starts.
If priority one (try to keep a child with a history of aggressive meltdowns calm enough so that he is able to think clearly and make the best decisions he can in the moment) and the second objective (try to de-escalate a meltdown once it starts happening) are not happening/being met, then it’s time for priority two (which corresponds to objective three): let the meltdown run its course and then hit the reset button if at all possible.
This is where much of the traditional discipline literature advises, understandably so for the most part, to not give in. Whatever triggered the meltdown in the first place needs to continue to be off the table until the meltdown has taken its turn. However, the reason why I sometimes give in has to do with the intensity of the meltdown. If the meltdown has taken a violent turn (as it does in some children—something to do with their ability to regulate their emotions), then stopping it in its tracks is the only way to prevent the house (or the people in the house) from being turned upside down and broken beyond repair.
Many times, the thing that triggered the aggressive meltdown wasn’t the main thing of the lesson to be learned, so because of this understanding, I put the thing back on the proverbial table so that the situation (and my child’s state of being) can be reset.
This makes all the difference in the world between spending the next hour (or two) in perpetual destructive-meltdown mode with no productive way out and being able to move on, relatively quickly, to the talking-through stage of the real issue at hand.
a) Which usually has little to nothing to do with the “thing” in question—which is why I use it (the “thing” as well as the “giving in” of it) as a path back to stable ground.
And b) Which usually has something to do with recognizing irritation, frustration, and/or anger and then dealing with it appropriately/constructively instead of defaulting to throwing, hitting, and screaming.
Are there times when you will purposely give in? If not, why not? If so, what are your reasons?