Repairing the Relationship With a Child After a Parental Meltdown

Repairing the Relationship After a Parental Meltdown

Most of us, at some point or another, have a parental meltdown; a moment where our emotions, in response to our child’s behaviour, gets the better of us and we react with frustration and/or anger. There are many factors that can contribute to these meltdowns. For me, It could be that I am tired, stressed, disconnected from the kids or my husband or that I have lost sight of perspective in the way I am viewing their behaviours .

Either way, I know it shouldn’t happen. I know I have to be more mindful and to keep my emotions in check. I know that each time I lose it with my children, it affects them and it affects our relationship. It is important, therefore, that I make an effort to repair the rupture that has happened, before moving on.

To enact this process of restoration, I need to take responsibility for my actions, swallow my pride and model humility for the benefit of my children and our relationship. Respectful parenting advocate, Janet Lansbury says, “I would always make amends when I’ve lost my temper, been impatient or unclear, changed my mind, made a mistake, hurt my child (intentionally or inadvertently), or come to a realisation about recent past mistakes.”

I was hanging the washing out when my children were toddlers. They were playing a room just inside the door with the neighbours’ older children. I heard some tension between my two and, as I moved in to support them, I observed one of them sitting on a ride-on car and the other trying to get it out from under her.

I tried to move calmly but quickly to keep them both safe, but was unable to prevent my daughter being pushed off her bike by her sister, ending up in a crying heap on the floor. Despite all my understandings of my triggers, despite knowing that this was more my fault for not providing adequate supervision or separation and despite being committed to being a peaceful and respectful parent, I reacted angrily.

I grabbed my daughter quite roughly and abruptly put her on the ground away from the bike before picking it up and angrily shouting: “No one is having the bike now!”, shoving it up high out of reach without any further explanation.

I then picked my crying daughter up from the floor, cuddled her and, then let her know It was time to change her nappy. As I began the changing process, my other daughter entered the room. In what I can only assume was a show of disgust for how I had reacted to the previous situation, she made a swipe at her sister. I was able to calmly block and support her by saying, “I won’t let you hit her.” but I could tell she was holding on to some hurt.

After the nappy change, both girls went back to the rumpus room to play. After a while I noticed my daughter sitting at her desk quietly drawing in her art pad. Having had time to reflect on the situation, I knew I needed to make reparations for my  earlier parental meltdown. I knew I had handled the situation poorly and I wanted to apologise and try to acknowledge her feelings post event.

I moved near her and initiated a conversation. I connected first with, “You’re doing some drawings, huh?” and when I didn’t get a negative response I continued, pausing after each statement. “I’m sorry I lost my temper with you…. I could see you really wanted that bike… I should have been more gentle with you when I was supporting you both…. I got angry and that scared you…. I’m really sorry, sweetheart.”

At this point, she stopped her drawing and stood up on her chair reaching up for me to pick her up. She then wrapped her arms around my neck and squeezed me hard into her with her little fingers.

After cuddling me tightly like this for quite sometime, she calmly and matter-of-factly said: “That was my bike.” letting me know with her limited articulation that she probably had the bike first. I knew then, that she had been stewing over the incident as well. She had not simply gotten over it and moved on as it can be easy to think. She was internalising the event along with my reaction and further convincing herself that my love for her may not be as strong as it is for her sister or maybe, that it is conditional.

She continued to cuddle me for what seemed like forever before pulling my cheek towards her and lightly kissing it.

As far as ‘aha’ moments go, this was up there for me. How many times had I lost my temper with the girls but failed to resolve it with them, instead, using the benefit of time to (apparently) cure-all angsts?

My daughter had shown me  that she forgave me and furthermore appreciated that I had taken the time to talk it through with her. By speaking openly with her about my remorse, I could successfully dispel any of those horrible thoughts she may have been having about the depth of my love for her and simultaneously model the restoration process.

I listened to a podcast once whereby Richard Fidler from ABC Local Conversations spoke with Dr Tina Payne Bryson, a psychotherapist and co-author of No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, about how a parent’s interaction with their children, particularly in moments of high stress, will affect how their children’s brains are ‘wired’.

It was relieving to hear her say that, “it is impossible to be an intentional, thoughtful parent all the time”. She also stated that our children give us, “millions of opportunities to connect with them throughout their lives” through moments that are high stress. It is important that we use these opportunities wisely and if we don’t for whatever reason, it is important to make reparations with them in the aftermath and in doing so, recreate some of those opportunities for connection. It sure felt good doing that in this situation.

My parenting is inspired by Magda Gerber’s RIE approach which I learned of through Janet Lansbury’s blog. If you are interested in learning more you can find some good information here or I highly recommend these books (affiliate links)

Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect (2nd Edition)  ~ Magda Gerber

Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities — From the Very Start
~ Magda Gerber

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting  ~ Janet Lansbury

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame ~ Janet Lansbury

Repairing the Relationship After a Parental Meltdown

34 thoughts on “Repairing the Relationship With a Child After a Parental Meltdown

  1. Jaimi

    almost made me cry reading your daughters reaction to you saying sorry…the cuddling and the kiss how sweet! makes me want to have talks with my kids:)

  2. Suzanne

    I also think it is important to model for our kids that everyone “loses it” sometimes, and we can show them a healthy way to apologize and make amends. They will need those skills, because, like us, they will never be perfect either. Good going, mom!

  3. Debs

    I totally hear you. I beat myself up bigtime when I realise that I have handle a situation in a way that isn’t reflective of what I am always trying to be and do and teach. I think it’s really important to have these conversations with our children and that we can reflect and apologise to our children where necessary. My daughter is so understanding and wonderful when I say something like, “I’m sorry that I raised my voice at you earlier. Mummy needed to stop and breath and think first before reacting. I’m sorry and I will try to deal with it differently next time.” She will often reply with something like, “That’s ok Mummy. I forgive you. I’m sorry that I acted like that as well.” It’s heart warming and reminds us all that we are human, we make mistakes but we can reflect and learn from them. An important lesson to teach a child.

  4. Kelly Long Burstow

    ‘it is impossible to be an intentional, thoughtful parent all the time’ – so good to hear. I used to beat myself up a lot for, essentially, not being a perfect parent. Interestingly, it’s that pressure that led to more melt-downs on my part. Now, I’ve learned to feel what I feel, minimise stress, and — yes to be as calm as I can…but in that, I’ve also found that raw honesty is a beautiful thing when I stuff up (which is still often). I’d be interested in following some of the links you put there from Janet Lansbury, Lisa Sunbury Gerber and Magda Gerber.

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      That podcast was one of the best things I have heard all year. Those simple words, that it is impossible to be perfect all the time and that it ultimately doesn’t matter as long as time is taken to reconnect after meltdowns, were like music to my ears too. Janet Lansbury and co have been life changers in our household. I began following Janet’s blog when my youngest was about 6 months and since then have experienced so much more relief and joy in parenting compared to the enormous stress I felt previously. I highly recommend having a look. xx

  5. Nae Peters

    I love this & I am having a teary moment 🙁 I need to respond more instead of reacting, after bub #2 was born my stress level with my son have increased 5 fold, he’s had a hard time to adjust to divided attention & is having some temporary hearing problems so his behavior has been difficult and I often, more often then not, react in the moment as this grumpy stressed out Muma (I hate it, I need to work on it) & I instantly feel remorse like you said. I often think “why did I say/do that, I could have handled that much better) Im working on it & I think after his ear operation things will improve.
    Thank you so much for sharing your story, it is a good reminder that you can reconnect, say sorry and get another chance.

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      Thank you, Nae. Bringing a new baby into your home is a stressful time for the whole family. Your son will go through this phase of testing behaviours to make sure of his security in the family. It is a big change for him. In fact, Janet Lansbury and Magda Gerber suggest the older sibling grieves for their old life (pre baby) and need to be reassured that despite having a younger sibling, you will always love and be there from them. I am sure you are doing a wonderful job. Don’t be too hard on yourself. And yes, his ear operation is sure to make a huge difference – we have had the same issues here! Good luck xx

  6. Kate

    Such a sweet ending to your story 🙂 When I read the situation I couldn’t help thinking you actually handled it quite well, poo on everything is very stressful! I went to a Positive Parenting information night recently and one of the best things I got out of it was when the speaker said to ditch the guilt. She explained that when you lose your temper or react badly to difficult situations it’s not going to cause any permanent damage to your kids so long as you are giving them plenty of positive attention most of the time. Great post 🙂

  7. Rachel | Racheous

    I can really relate to this. Genuinely apologising to your children when you are in the wrong and teaching them through your imperfections are hugely positive things that many well meaning parents do not do.

  8. Danya Banya

    I’ve had a few minor meltdowns lately (usually when I’m tired), and I agree with you that apologising to my kids has been really helpful. I’ve noticed that JJ will tell me what I did wrong “you said what you said too quickly and you hurted my feelings and then I cried” which is great practice for her to explain her emotions and learn how to handle these situations in the future. And we will hug and forgive each other and move on.

  9. Kylie @ Octavia and Vicky

    This is hitting me right in the heart. I’ve been SO much more grumpy since the birth of my second child (now six months old) and much more short tempered with my three year old. I hate myself sometimes. This isn’t the mummy that I want to be.
    I will listen to that podcast and practice being more intentional and peaceful.

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  11. Ms. S

    Thank you for this wonderful reminder on asking children for forgiveness. I needed to hear this! While I feel remorseful when I melt down, I may had simply said I’m sorry or if they ran off playing thinking they are okay, I wouldn’t say anything. 🙁 I see that is wrong of me and I need to make a heart and mind connection! I am glad to know, that no matter the age, I must take the time to stop. It can lead to healing and have the makings of a better relationship. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

      1. Ms. S

        Thank you for your kind words. I have been trying to be more mindful since my reading your post. It IS changing us for the better already! Thank you!

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  16. Jaime

    I absolutely love the honest and empathetic approach you all offer. For the past two years I have been sharing your articles on my Facebook parenting group and believe I have evolved so much as a parent of three and LPC in EC because of what you share. I have been teaching another parenting curriculum that included a great deal of what you suggest but there are some major differences and I would much rather teach a curriculum that was entirely devlo

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  20. allyson

    Thank you for writing this….i am a single mom of a 2.5 year old and an 6.5 month old and have been losing my tact with my toddler. I feel horrible because I know he is in a transition of not seeing his dad much. I hate when my stress gets the best of me because he is only 2.5 (a bright boy) who can articulate my response to him. Everyday I try so hard and I am starting to think I dont deserve my kids. For the most part we have a great time together but night time rolls around and like clock work, he is wired when I am so tired I cant even think straight. My mom was a screamer and as much as i love and appreciate her, I am always annoyed by her criticism. My boys are everything, why am I doing this?

  21. Marcia Walker

    I’ve been a horrible mom to my twins this weekend, hubby was away and I stopped coping. I’ve been looking everywhere for some kind of guidance or recognition that I’m not alone, there are no JL posts describing parental meltdowns, I guess because she started blogging when her kids were no longer toddlers so she doesn’t remember specific incidents. I know all the concepts, I know I need more self care, I know I need to see that they need my help and I’ve spent hours in the last few days looking for posts that would give me the breakthrough I so desperately want to stop having this anger. This post made me feel less isolated!


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