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Mending meltdowns

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Is your child having meltdowns every time you ask them to do something they don’t want to do? Do they get so worked up that not only are they not following through with their responsibilities but you lose an hour or more of your day trying to talk them into it and then having to get them calm again? And then you feel guilty about the whole scenario because of the distress it caused both of you?

But if you had a routine in place that provided predictability and structure so your kid knew exactly what was expected of them, they were aware of time frame they had to finish the task, and tools to help them manage the “I don’t want to” feelings when those come up, you both would feel better organized and focused, have more flexibility and freedom around the sense of urgency that the task needs to be done “right now”, and your child would feel acknowledged that what they’re being asked to do might feel difficult for them in that moment.

My sister-in-law used to have such a difficult time getting my nephew to complete his chores on a daily basis that she began to feel like it was a pointless battle, especially since she really had no support from my brother in enforcing it. She was at her wits end when we chatted about an approach that is often used with kids on the autism spectrum which included scheduling and prompts for various activities. When she started implementing the recommendations, it was a life changer. Both of them went from extremely anxious to relatively calm, from disorganized & unfocused to organized & focused, from rushed to relaxed and now she’s sharing the recommendations with her other mom friends!

If this sounds like your family, here are 5 easy steps you can try right now to ease the chore clash:

  1. Get clear on your expectations and WRITE THEM DOWN in language that is appropriate for your child’s age. For example, if they’re a kindergartener, you want to use short sentences with pictures at first since they’re still new to reading: Put shirts in dresser.

  2. Write a schedule and set timers.

  3. Come up with a list of things that you know have helped calm your child down in the past. Some examples that have worked for my son are: coloring, turning the lights down low, and watching baby and/or cat videos.

  4. After doing the calm down activity for 5-10 minutes, speak with your child, reflecting on their feelings, acknowledging that they are having a tough time with the situation and that they don’t want to do what you’re asking of them. Include that the task still needs to get done, but that you’ll work together to make it more enjoyable, like making a game of basketball out of putting dirty clothes in the hamper, singing a certain number of songs for how long they’re supposed to wash in the shower, or counting the number of steps to the garbage can.

  5. Celebrate when the tasks are complete! This can be as simple as a high five or can be incentivized, depending on what your family chooses. We like doing high fives and we also, on the schedule, have check boxes where our son places a check mark with great satisfaction when he finishes his chores.

To get started, if you don’t already have an established chore list, take a look at this link to one of my favorite child development resources based on the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori:

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