Mindfully Speaking: How to Prevent Meltdowns

Last week I was walking down the street behind a mother and her son. The small being was about three years old. It seemed that this mom was at the end of a long day and was rushing to pick up another kiddo.

I’m constantly studying behavior, so couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. This is how it went down:

Mom: Come on, you have to walk faster!

Small Being: Why?

Mom: Just come on! Why are you always asking dumb questions?

Small Being: Look, a bus, Mama! Look!

Mom: What? No, we don’t have time to look at the bus. Come on!

Small Being: (stopping and looking down) There are ants.

Mom: Why are you stopping? Keep going, you need to move your little legs so we can get there.  Stop making everything harder!

The mom attempts to pull him along, rather successfully.

Small Being: (as tears start to fall) I want to look at the ants!

Mom: Let’s go.

Mom picks him up and continues walking.

Mom: I can’t believe that I have to carry you like a baby. You need to listen when I tell you to walk. Who cares about ants when we need to pick up your brother? You know better!

The small being then goes into full-on tantrum mode. The mom gets angrier. They both continue on their way while being totally miserable.


Scenarios like this are commonplace. Listen, I know it’s hard to bring a small being around town, especially when you are in a rush. I’m in no way trying to make anyone feel bad about this kind of interaction. It happens.

But there is hope for improvement. Here are two ways that you can prevent meltdowns:

First, adjust your expectations. We all need to do an expectations-check once in awhile. This small being was not trying to be defiant or not listen; he simply didn’t understand the importance of staying focused.

Small beings live in the moment. When a pretty butterfly goes by, that’s where their attention goes. It's how small beings are. So accept it.

Big beings, on the other hand, are constantly juggling countless ideas in their head. You are balancing present, past, and future thinking. And that’s okay, until you get angry at your small being for not thinking like you.

At its core conflict arises from the clash of different perspectives. (Click to Tweet)

Second, speak to your small being the way you want to be spoken to. Use words that will motivate him and a tone that will keep him on your side.

Yes, it can be a challenge and I’m guessing you may be rolling your eyes as you read this.

But I promise you that you’re expending much more energy on your own anger than you would if you focused on keeping your small being motivated.

Trust me!

When you don’t know what to say try talking to your small being about the present. What are you physically doing right now? What is coming next? Asking questions like these will keep them on track and consequentially prevent a tantrum from erupting.

Here's how to put this concept into action, within the same scenario we've been talking about:

Mom: We are waiting for the light to change so we can walk across the street. Let's keep watching so we can go fast when it changes.

Small Being: Why?

Mom: (without taking eyes off the traffic light) Because we need to get your brother and we don’t want him to wait. My eyes are still on the traffic light. Are yours?

Small Being: Yes. Look, a bus!

Mom: Nice, can you keep focus and tell me when the light changes?


It will take time to get used to this new rhythm and for your small one to recognize the shift. In the long run, however, it will change everything!


Insight Into Action:

Parents: What's one thing you can do differently the next time your small being has a meltdown?

Teachers: When do you notice your way of thinking clash with your students way of thinking? How did you adjust?


Feedback? Thoughts? Comments? Leave 'um below or email me at: Info@BehaviorAndBeyond.net.

With a little help we can all grow. If a special person in your life can use this information, then please forward this blog.

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