Tuesday Topic: Meltdowns

It may be Wednesday, but here is this week’s Tuesday Topic.  Shawnee asked,

I would love to hear responses from parents regarding how they handle meltdowns in the car and at bedtime, two times when it seems there are limitations on how meltdowns can be handled because the one is confined to a small space on a busy freeway and the other is at a time when many people’s needs are being taken care of at once (in our family, separate bedtimes is not yet a good option).  Just wondering what other people do — these are our two toughest times with our kids.

We have our share of challenges during these two times as well, and I suspect many of you can offer thoughts on this.  Let’s encourage Shawnee with some good suggestions; don’t worry that your idea is too simple because it may be a brand new thought to somebody else.  Please leave a comment!

I love the way we support one another here; thank you for all that you do to serve other families by reading and commenting.

Encourage one another,


This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Sami
    November 7, 2012

    This is a really small idea but in the car I open the windows if there is screaming. It doesn't fix the problem but it helps spread out/soften the noise and I feel less distracted/dangerous as a driver. That is, if I'm on the freeway! If I'm at a stoplight the windows go back up! 🙂

  2. BramfamSarah
    November 7, 2012

    For starters, at any stressful time, I try as best I can to speak in "hushed tones" and not raise my voice over theirs. I let them know that whatever they need to say will be heard, but they have to calm down first. At home, I have two chairs in my bedroom where I send people to calm down, or even myself sometimes. We have good talks and hard talks and read and snuggle there too, so they don't feel punished being sent there.

    At bedtimes, when the stress level is high, I start early to wind things down, get kids showered or bathed, chores done, often with a reward of "extra reading time, drawing or journal time if things go well" I find that if I'm upstairs monitoring progress and not trying to finish dishes, things go more smoothly. I have found that requiring obedience and kindness while I yell up from the kitchen never goes well.

    In the car, I usually have to pull over if it gets ugly and just deal with being late to whatever.

    With my 5 kids, some lash out or respond strongly more then others, and they need extra help to learn to calm themselves down. My second and fourth children tend to "panic" when things go wrong. Again, me staying calm is always a key:)

    I also teach them early and kindly that we have a choice in how we respond. When they are younger, I ask them to go to their room and "find their happy face before they come back" When they are older they get it, but they may need a little time to find a good attitude, just like us.
    We let them know that any issue can and will be resolved. As they get older they trust that it will.

    Lastly, I have observed in recent years that anger in my children is a "top layer" feeling, and if I take the time to ask what hurt feeling is under all that anger we seem to make progress toward real resolution. Unfortunately, these things come out at bedtime, when we are all tired. Sometimes we deal with it and sometimes we "hold it" for the next day, helping them know their important feelings are not forgotten, but just being dealt with at a better time for all of us. Making sure we get to forgiveness when we talk is key to things being let go of.

  3. debbie
    November 7, 2012

    When my daughter has a meltdown at bedtime she is just plain too tired to deal with life. I set her on my lap and give her a big hug, rub her tummy and her back and ask her to look me in the eyes. Then I ask her to get back her self control. If she has hit, bit or hurt anyone's ears I tell her to say she is sorry.

    I have no real solution for the car. If I really have to get where I'm going I might try to make her laugh. If I have time I will pull over until she is quiet.

  4. Teresa
    November 7, 2012

    When I'm driving I pull over if it is at all possible, making it much easier and safer to deal with whatever the situation may be.

  5. Acceptance with Joy
    November 8, 2012

    Whenever there has been a tantrum in the car I have pulled over and waited. It was for safety reasons to start with… but I soon saw that it had an effect and just decided that it was my best way to handle the situation. We no longer have car tantrums. Not ever. We still have them at home, but never at bedtime, so no experience to share there.

  6. Leah
    November 8, 2012

    We rotate seat assignments in the car often (everyone is till in carseats or boosters). Some have a harder time with one or two kids in the family and this is a way to give a break to everyone. Additionally, after many, many totally unsafe and crazy car rides (we have a child with significant sensory issues) we installed an awesome TV/audio system in my old van. I can hook my phone up to it and off we go. We usually listen to music but sometimes a movie/tv show is used when things are really hard. I feel like a bad mom but it is so much safer. I also get to leave the house without loosing my mind. Calmer mom equals calmer kids.

    Bedtime is super hard. We rarely stay out late or have activities around this time of day to help make it go smoother. The tension and terror that evening activities cause is just not worth it to me. Dinner at 6pm, showers at 6:30, in bed by 7pm. We've gone through several ideas to make this time of day work. Family story reading time in living room, individual story time in their rooms, different room sharing configurations, different bedtimes, different care givers with different kids etc. I guess my point is something will work for a season and then it will not work. I'm getting much better at realizing that something is not working and changing instead of trying to make it continue to work. Taking all my expectations and "this will not work" responses have help our family create some great solutions.

  7. sleepyknitter
    November 8, 2012

    thank you, everyone, for your helpful responses! I have a hard time knowing how to deal with these two meltdown times, and I am ALWAYS looking for suggestions from anyone who has "been there, done that."

    And thank you, Lisa, for posting my question and for your wonderful blog. I read every post.


  8. daysofwonderandgrace
    November 8, 2012

    A car idea…after seriously struggling with car meltdowns for years, I accidentally discovered that it was the seat belt shoulder strap that my daughter could not handle when she was upset. Not only did being belted in represent confinement (loss of control which is a trigger), when she struggled against the belt, it would automatically lock, confining her even more tightly in her seat, making the meltdown even worse. The solution was to give her a little control: when she begins to feel upset, I give her permission to help herself feel better by ducking under the shoulder strap to put the strap behind her back. She's still belted in with the lap strap so technically she's belted in. It has almost eliminated her meltdowns in the car by taking a key sensory piece out of play. A small safety compromise with huge gains in sanity for everyone else in the vehicle!

  9. Kal
    November 9, 2012

    I am new to this blog. Found this topic to be really relevant as we deal with bed-time meltdowns with our recently adopted 5 yo.
    We worked out that the fear factor is the thing that sets in post sun-set. Our child is peaceful through the day. Post dinner the hyper-activity and cranky behaviour starts.
    The past few nights have been peaceful and a few things we did helped.
    Firstly acknowledge her fear. Tell her we know how she feels. This seems to work as she then lets us IN – and tells us how she is really feeling at the moment. Her talking about it dissolves a tiny bit of the anxiety.
    Secondly we do not rush her to go to sleep – she stays up a little longer, which could well be half past ten at night. We give her lots of reassurance, tell her that its ok and she will be fine and that we are with her. Helps a teeny little more.
    The last thing I do is meditate before I go to sleep. And when I am still she becomes still too – the guided meditation ( meant for mum!) seems to be working on her too as she quietly falls into sleep on my lap.

  10. Karen P
    November 9, 2012

    I understand the need to get the rest of the family going where they need to go, but I too usually pulled off the road and sat in a parking lot, waiting for the screaming to stop. I have pulled off onto the shoulder before too if it's a stretch of not-so-busy roadways. I usually would tell my screamer that it is not safe for me to drive the car with that screaming and so we'll wait until she's finished. In order to save the ears of the others, I have gotten her out of the car and we've stood in the parking lot until she is done screaming. I've also shared with her that the car, living room, etc. is family space and that everyone should feel safe and comfortable there. She CAN scream and throw a fit in her room but she cannot do so in the family space. This seems to help too, especially as she has gotten older and can grasp that a bit more.
    We've had battles over putting on the seatbelt too. I state again that it is not safe to drive without a seatbelt and so I will wait until she's able to do it. One time we had a 45 minute "stand off" about her putting on a seatbelt. On this occasion, my other daughter and I sat on the curb beside the car, waiting for her to put the seatbelt on. People would stop and ask if we were ok, needed help, etc. I assured them that we were fine and that we were simply waiting for my daughter to put her seatbelt on. This particular daughter never did that again. 🙂
    As for bedtime, my screamer/tantrum-thrower always needs to know the plan–when we get home I need you to take a shower and put on your pjs. Then, we'll eat dinner, etc. Even though she is now 9.5 years old, I still do this with her every day. As we're finishing up dinner, I remind her of the things that we'll do before we go to bed or if it's a gymnastics day, she goes to bed right after dinner and I remind her while we're eating that this is going to happen. We have no extra noise going on–no tv, no radio, nothing. This seems to help as well. She is my child that sleeps with a weighted blanket and so she gets in her bed, all covered up, and usually will read for few minutes (even as few as 5 minutes) before I come in, say prayers, and turn off the light. Routine, routine, routine is how this child functions best. Now that she's older, I can alter the order BUT my sharing of the plan with her each night gives her that same sense of routine.
    My youngest child, the one from the hardest place, HATES night time. She doesn't tantrum but as soon as the sun goes down, she starts saying, "Where's the sun?" I remind her that it's the moon's turn now and that it's night time. She says, "Yes. It's dark. Close your eyes!" She HATES the dark. In her room, I purchased a nightlight that she turns on instead of one with a sensor that comes on when it's dark. This gives her some control, I think, to eliminate the darkness. She also can ask to sleep in my bed which she quite often. I'm fine with that as it seems to be what she needs right now.
    I think that as time goes by, it gets easier. My middle child, the screamer from above, has come SO far from when she was younger. I could never imagine her being/acting as "normal" as she does now given the severity of her tantrums at the time. When she was two, she would tantrum for hours on end. One night in particular, we slept for 45 minutes only. She was screaming the rest of the time. I share this with you as an example that it does usually get better!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

I accept the Privacy Policy