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How to Handle a Mommy Meltdown

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These nine expert tips will help keep negative emotions in check.

Mom laying with baby

Some days, it feels like just about everything goes wrong. Your little one refuses to wear clothes, the dog had an accident on the floor, and the bulb in the hallway blew and you’re out of extra lightbulbs. The forecast for a meltdown? Extremely likely.

"A lot of being a mom is stressful and not so glamorous. We have days where it all seems like it's falling apart, and that's normal," says licensed psychologist Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., the founder and director of Horizons Developmental Resource Center in Caledonia, Michigan. She works primarily with families and shared the following advice on how to avoid losing it—and how to regain control quickly when you do.

Preventive Strategies

It's nearly impossible to ward off 100 percent of meltdowns but taking a few precautions can reduce the chance that you'll be swept up in one. 

Eat something every few hours. Sounds obvious, right? But it's not always easy to accomplish, especially if you're responsible for young kids. "A lot of moms I work with, they're forgetting to eat during the day," says Dr. Beurkens, who is also a Board-certified nutritionist. "When our blood sugar is really low because we're not eating consistently, we're much more prone to losing it." Set a timer on your phone to go off every three hours so you get all the nutrients you need.

Get enough sleep. Again, you already know this, but are you logging seven to nine hours every night—the amount of sleep the National Sleep Foundation recommends you get? If your older infant or toddler keeps waking you up at night, it may be time to try sleep training your kiddo and/or call in a specialist, if necessary.

Stick to routines. "Kids thrive on routines," Dr. Beurkens says. "The research has shown us for a long time that kids who are raised in environments where there's more structure tend to be more emotionally and behaviorally regulated than kids who are raised in homes where there's no consistency and everything is just chaos all the time." This might help your children avoid tantrums, which means less stress for mommy (a win-win!). So try to do certain things at the same time each day: waking them up, feeding them meals and snacks, naps, bedtime, etc. 

Schedule me-time. Even if it's as little as 10 minutes a day, give yourself a moment to do something that makes you feel happy and calm, whether it's watching a favorite show, reading a book, drinking a hot cup of tea, or even just taking a minute to wash and moisturize your face so you feel more put together. "We need those times, even briefly, to recharge, and when we can build those in ahead of time, that goes a long way to making us more resilient," Dr. Beurkens says.

What to Do In the Moment

Let's say you've lost your temper—we've all been there. What now?

Pause and breathe deeply. Dr. Beurkens like to think of this as a time-out for a parent. "Part of putting a kid in time-out is getting some separation and some space to just go, 'Okay. I need to get myself together here,'" she says. Let the kids do something by themselves for a few minutes so you can take five deep, slow-paced breaths. If your partner can swoop in and let you take a walk around the block or pick up some takeout, even better. Remember, asking for help is not weakness! "There's an instinct, especially with moms, to think, ‘We have to fix that and take care of everything right this second.’ And then we just end up getting more frazzled," Dr. Beurkens notes. During this break, give yourself a pep talk: "This will all get handled. You've done it before and you can do it again."

Reframe how you think about tantrums. If your 3-year-old having a meltdown is what set you off, keep this in mind: "Kids throwing tantrums and being obstinate really has absolutely no correlation to how they feel about us or to really anything about us," Dr. Beurkens says. "We need to detach our feelings about that, like, 'Why don't they like me’ or, ‘Why are they doing this to me?' It really isn't about that." Tantrums happen because your preschooler's brain isn't fully developed yet and the fits should start to decrease by around age 5 in most kids. Think of a tantrum as something that is happening to your toddler. Your child's brain is getting overwhelmed by a tornado of emotion and they are not in control.

Forgive yourself. If you raised your voice or said something you wish you hadn't to your child, don't beat yourself up. "We need to recognize that nothing's going to be perfect. That’s normal. Give yourself some grace around that," Dr. Beurkens says. "A great batting average in baseball is .300, and that means they're hitting the ball 3 out of 10 times. If we're doing that as parents—if we're getting it right three times out of 10—great. We don’t need to be aiming for a 10 out of 10 record."

Have a heart-to-heart with your kid. If you regret how you handled something, you can always apologize later to your child and hug it out. Say something like, "I felt so frustrated when you did X, but I wish I hadn't yelled. I'm sorry. I’m going to try to keep myself more calm when I’m frustrated." "That models a couple of really important things. It lets them know that we all make mistakes and it's okay; we can repair that afterward. And it takes a lot of the shame out of that for kids who behave in ways that later on they wish they hadn't," Dr. Beurkens says.

Laugh. As long as nobody got seriously hurt or sick, keep it in perspective. Did your baby projectile poop all over you? Did you accidentally greet the mail-person while wearing a clay facemask? Did your cat kill your favorite houseplant? Whatever the drama, while it may have sent you into a tailspin in real time, when you have some distance from the experience, you may find that it makes for an entertaining story at a future party.

Find other great health and wellness stories at Parents.com/Strive