Real Life Respectful Parenting: Working in Partnership to Get Through a Toddler Meltdown

Tonight I realised how lucky I am to a be a part of a great, respectful parenting partnership…

A Great Parenting Partnership ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids
It was dinner time and Lucy (3.5 years) was objecting to eating, which she often does. We have learned to let go of our eating expectations and are happy to offer a range of nutritious food throughout the day and let the children decide what they will eat and how much. We often calmly state to Lucy: “If you are not hungry, you do not have to eat your dinner.”

Tonight, however, she was clearly overtired and ironically I think, over-hungry. The meal was spaghetti bolognese which she has eaten many times before so the flavours were not the problem. She asked for milk, then water, then milk mixed with water, then just water again. This was a clear sign to us that she had some pent up emotion and needed to release it.

I set the limit she needed and explained to her that she already had a drink and could finish that before having any more. She became very upset and agitated and there was a risk both food and drink was going to end up all over the floor as she fought to gain a grip of the water bottle.

Hubby left the table at this point as he was struggling to stay mindful and respectful. He did this calmly, though, and not in a reactive manner. I made the decision to carry Lucy to her room so she could be in a safer environment to release the emotion. She continued to escalate in her room and she became quite aggressive towards me as I sat nearby her. I could have left but I felt that even though she was screaming at me to leave, I needed to stay present whilst she was in this state. I moved just out of her room but stayed close.

After five minutes or so, I received a blow to my face that I was not ready for and it activated my own angry trigger immediately. I signalled with a look to my husband that I needed a break and he stepped in and took on my role. He had had some time to collect his thoughts and re-engage his mindful self. He sat patiently with her,  giving her some time to work through her emotions. He then took her for a walk outside to get some fresh air and clear perspective.

Now, I jumped into the shower at this point to clear my own head so I am not sure what transpired or what father-daughter talks were had on this walk but when they returned, Lucy was back to her cheerful self and it was as though, nothing had happened.

I am so thankful to have a parenting partner who believes in the same respectful and peaceful parenting philosophies I do and can also recognise when he needs to step in and ‘rescue’ me before my triggers get the better of me.

Between the two of us we were able to support my daughter through some pretty crazy, intense emotions without becoming reactive to her testing behaviour. She was able to release these feelings safely and subsequently went to bed free from the burden she had been carrying.

Toddler Meltdown: A Respectful Parenting Partnership ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

You might also enjoy reading:

I Have a Daughter With Intense Emotions

When Extreme Emotions Take Over a Toddler

23 thoughts on “Real Life Respectful Parenting: Working in Partnership to Get Through a Toddler Meltdown

  1. Kay Barker

    Thank you for sharing this experience – what with facebook filled with photos of other people’s well behaved smiling kids – it’s very refreshing! I’m about to have my second child and am anxious about how to balance our attention during different parenting challenges. I guess I was wondering how your younger daughter reacted to this situation, and what she was doing while you were juggling your eldest? I was the quieter younger sister of a volatile attention demanding older sister, and did feel resentment when her behaviour dominated our family gatherings.

    1. peacefulparentsconfidentkids Post author

      Thank you, Kay. It can be difficult to give my youngest full attention during these meltdowns, thankfully, they are getting fewer and further between. Penny generally has a placid nature and what’s more, does not like anything to come between her and her dinner! She loves her food – haha!
      Whilst I took Lucy to her room, my husband returned to the dinner table to sit with Penny whilst she finished hers. When My husband took over from me with Lucy, I went to Penny and helped her take her plate to the sink. She needed a shower at this point so she came with me to do that whilst my husband helped Lucy through her emotions.
      Good luck with your impending birth 🙂

  2. Becka Coates

    Kate, you are such an inspiration to me and my parenting goals. Funnily enough just last night the very same thing happened to us with our also strong willed daughter (who sounds just like a little English Lucy!) and he was able to sit right by her as she thrashed and screamed and knocked things over while I put our son to bed (luckily he is used to Emily’s outbursts and remained really calm throughout the whole thing). My husband isn’t always on the same page as me when it comes to respectful and gentle parenting but reading your post here made me realise that he is on my side more than I sometimes think. Thank you again for a real affirming read.
    Becka x

  3. Claire

    You’re so right, partnership is very important. My husband and I argue about our parenting choices, so when those challenging moments pop-up (and they always do), we’re not on the same page – I’m not able to back him up, he’s not able to back me up – I’m very frustrated about this and so does he, which leaves my dear 3 year old daughter in the middle, upset and frustrated about a limit I’ve set… but, when I react a lot, and her emotions trigger mine my husband step in, all calm and peaceful and takes care of everything to give me the time I need to quietly breathe and calm down.

  4. Steph

    I want to be a sponge and soak up everything on peaceful and respectful parenting. I’m struggling with my 3.5 y.o. after the addition of a new baby to the mix. And I come from a authoritative-ish type of parenting (where tantrums were not allowed and had better compose ourselves). Whenever he throws a tantrum or does something even though I already said “I won’t let you do xyz” my anger surfaces, and very quickly, and I always find myself asking to myself “now how do I handle this one” and in the thick of it I just don’t know.

    1. peacefulparentsconfidentkids Post author

      It’s great that you recognise what triggers your anger, Steph. You can work from there. You know you become upset when he repeats a behaviour after you have said not to, so don’t let him repeat it. This is easier said then done, I know because my 3.5 year old has a lot of trouble accepting limits also and will almost always try to continue or repeat the behaviour after clearly being told not to. I find the best way to help her accept the limit is by physically preventing her from continuing the behaviour after she has been told not to. Verbal instructions are not enough for her and I ensure I move close to her to help her to stop when she needs me to.
      Hopefully this will help you maintain your calm self as you stay confident in setting the limit.

  5. Shannon

    Hi Kate, I always love your posts. Thank you! I’m wondering if you’ll say a little bit more about what happened when your daughter hit you in the face. I’ve been on this respectful/gentle parenting journey since my daughter was born, but I find that her hitting me is the one thing that I have no patience for. When this happens, I feel the need to yell and get my point across that this behavior is not acceptable. I think I’m having a hard time seeing past the act of hitting me instead of seeing it as a cry for attention. But still, does that make it ok because she’s so young (3 years old)? Or does it show that I’ll accept it? I really struggle with this one.

    1. peacefulparentsconfidentkids Post author

      Hi Shannon,
      I had been blocking her hits just prior and calmly letting her know that I would not let her hit me. When I missed one and it connected with me, I held her hands to stop them thrashing at me and that’s when my husband stepped in. I didn’t say anything as I was not in a good frame of mind. I have been hit before and have been able to stay keep my composure and empathise with her anger whilst at the same time positioning myself so I am not in the firing line, normally by standing up and moving away a little. It is not easy but it really helps me to think about the reasons why she is so angry. When she is in these states, she literally cannot control her actions and relies on me to help her not admonish her.

      1. Mel

        Man, that is really hard, I’ve been in the same ring of fire – and if/when I get hit, it triggers all my stuff too – and it is very hard (I was told that I had a lot of physical abuse when little, so I thought maybe that stuff was coming up?..) – and the sad thing is, I don’t have a partner on my side with any of this. My 2 1/2 year old’s dad grew up very authoritarian and is also a highly functioning autistic, so he very reactive or just completely in his computer world, but also very blaming to me (because his emotions get triggered whenever our little one is sad too and wants me to stop it and I won’t…which means he has to feel his feelings too – and unfortunetely, he will not read even one parenting article, or anything with me, in other words, he is unwilling to learn new/other ways of doing things – and will even say that I am just trying to get him to hear “my” ideas – as if every article was written by me, hehe) – which is the hardest part, have been trying to let our boy feel his feelings and cry whenever possible and it is tricky, since dad tries to get him to avoid them, and also, he is just so very mad that his dad is unavailable. I just started telling him, kindly, that that is how dad is, that he does the best he can..
        We have had a few good cries though – and one day, just recently, he was able to tell me he wanted to cry, and let me know when he was done! Dad does love him in his own way too, and sometimes this amazing 2 1/2 year old is able to get thru to dad, as in, now that he is crying more consciously, he can tell dad what he is doing, or something of that nature and dad hears him better than me 🙂

        1. peacefulparentsconfidentkids Post author

          Mel, It sounds like you are doing a really wonderful job with your little boy. I love that you are able to help connect with his father simply by explaining that his Dad does the best he can and this is such an important message for your little one to learn – to always do the best he can.
          Keep staying calm and modelling the empathy and I am sure that your partner will begin to see it as the norm and it may help him deal with some of his own emotional triggers.
          Thank you for reaching out!
          Kate xx

  6. Sue Lively

    Loved this post Kate! So glad I found your blog. We have very similar parenting approaches and my husband and I have had some very similar experiences to what you described above. We’re very lucky to have such great partners aren’t we? I’m sharing this post on my FB site. Just wanted to say Hi! Best, Sue

  7. Jessica

    I found this article very intriguing and appreciate this type of parenting style although I don’t see my husband stepping in. He likes to avoid confrontation and tends to not want to be around meltdowns.

    I’m curious as to if the child in question received any consequence for hitting though? If not, how does the child learn that hitting is never okay?

    1. peacefulparentsconfidentkids Post author

      Hi Jess, thank you for being so open-minded about peaceful parenting. The basic premise for peaceful parenting is that it is based around treating children with respect. It’s about guiding children in developmentally appropriate ways and trusting in their inherent goodness.
      Whilst consequences can form a part of this in some circumstances, they should be used wisely and contain logic. For example, if a child is drawing on something they shouldn’t be it would be a logical consequence to take the drawing implements away “I can see you’re having a hard time drawing on the paper. I don’t want drawings on the wall so I’m going to help you by putting the pens in the cupboard.” It would also be logical (if age appropriate) to have them help clean the pen off the wall. It wouldn’t be logical to then say “And there will be no dessert tonight.” Or “I am going to take away your doll.” These punitive consequence may be effective in stopping the behaviours in a more timely manner as children learn to associate a negative feeling to the behaviour, they also serve to increase the angst in the child and can build up feelings of resentment which then presents itself in other facets of their behaviour.
      So back to your question about the consequences for hitting… When Lucy is in a highly emotional state such as she was, it is simply not possible for her to control her actions. She needs my help to do this for her whilst she is still learning to manage her own impulses. I knew she was being aggressive and I was blocking her hits in the lead up to the one I missed. I needed to ensure I positioned myself so I could keep her from hitting me. I was not effective in doing this and punishing her for that would only have created more uncertainty and confusion for her. It is scary for a child to feel this way. To have so much power over a parent that they can hit them and cause them pain. We are supposed to protect them and keep them safe and if they don’t feel we can do this it can make them spiral further out of control.
      Setting and keeping the limit is enough in this situation. Lucy will eventually, as she grows and matures, learn better ways to cope with her emotions. I already see her starting to do this in so many situations where she used to lose it. As she feels more confident and settled in herself, her impulse to hit and be aggressive will decrease. I just need to keep helping her by blocking these impulses in the meanwhile.
      Sorry this is so long-winded. I hope it clears it up a little for you. I would be happy to clarify further if you need.
      Kate xx

  8. Kelly @ Happy Whimsical Hearts

    A parenting partnership makes a huge difference. My husband and I are generally on the same page and help each other with issues like this through the day. Because I read more about positive/gentle parenting I am always learning more and shifting how I like to approach things as we continue along this path, so one thing I find I have to be particularly mindful of is bringing my husband along!

  9. Pingback: Becoming a Respectful Parenting Partnership - Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

  10. Katie

    I’ve been trawling through your posts and have to say that this blog is one of the most relatable I’ve ever read. I’m in exactly the same situation with my amazing husband. I’m so thankful that we have the same parenting perspective, especially with a highly emotional toddler!

    1. Kate Russell

      Thank you so much, Katie! I’m so glad it resonated and that you and your husband have a great parenting partnership also. it makes a challenging job so much easier, doesn’t it?!
      Warmly, Kate


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