How to deal with your child’s sudden meltdown?

So the other day my daughter wanted to ride 1 of those moving pony rides in the mall. We had previously purchased extra tickets for it so we told her that we would come back to play after the family had our dinner. She agreed and was so looking forward to it the whole dinner.

Then when we got back, the kiosk was closed with all the moving pony rides covered up and a sign that says “Out for Dinner, be back at 7.30pm.”

My daughter was so devastated (as if her hamster died and here’s the thing, we don’t have a hamster) and inconsolable. She began sobbing and stomping her feet on the ground. We tried to explain that there was nothing we could do and that we would probably be on our way home by the time it was 7.30pm, but she was having none of it.

That was when I realised that she probably had hardly experienced rejection and disappointment because for most of her life, she hardly had to deal with this. It was like what she wanted, her grandparents, maternal and paternal, would give. Often as parents, we were guilty of that too but we justify that it was “only for that one time”—that ended up being every time.

So rather than trying to force her to control her emotions, I began to validate her feeling by saying, “Darling, You must be very disappointment. I can imagine you were really looking forward to it while we were having dinner.” The wailing only became louder. To me, that was fine, because it meant I had her attention and what I said got through to her, because more often than not, when your kid is wailing and demanding what he/she wants, they aren’t going to be interested in whatever you have to say. They just want whatever they want!

Then I began to share about my own experience with disappointment, relating to her a time when I was about her age—she’s about 3—and did not get what I had expected to. My uncle had promised to bring us out to a theme park on Sunday and I was looking forward to it for the whole week! When the day finally arrived, my cousins became sick and it happened to be raining that whole day so the whole trip was cancelled! I was so disappointed.

I know some people caution us from redirecting the conversation to be about yourself every time and I totally agree with that. However, in this instance, I really felt it helped create a deeper connection between us too and showed her that what she was feeling was normal and that other people do feel it too.

As I was talking about my experience with disappointment, I carried her close to my heart around the mall. It’s important that you bring your child away from the source of disappointment and provide them with your comforting embrace. Sharing with them a story also serves to distract them from their own disappointment.

As we walked around the mall, we happened to find a kiddy ride that was $2 for 3 rides! We saw it and excitedly told her, “Hey how about we take this ride!” Now normally we do not allow our students to take such rides. In fact the toy pony ride tickets were purchased by her grandparents in bulk so we had no choice but to finish it.

We pointed out to her that this was really special that she actually got to ride it. We pointed out to her the significance of that moment and used that as a teachable moment to explain to her that often disappointment is there to teach us patience. All good things are worth waiting for.

So in summary, here’s what you can try to do when your child next meets with a major disappointment:

  • Validate their feelings. Do not dismiss it or force them to get a grip of themselves immediately. We know it’s impossible.
  • Hug them and carry them away from their source of disappointment. If the source of disappointment is not a place, but instead a missed event, it still helps to bring your child to another room or location. A change of locale might be a good distraction and the new sight and sound might arouse their interest.
  • Build a connection by sharing related incidents that you know of or experienced. It is important to educate them that they are not the only one in the world experiencing that emotion.
  • At the end of the day, once they have calmed down, acknowledge their effort to calm down and praised them if they managed to manage their emotions within 15 minutes. Younger children may take up to 30 minutes.