from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

“Dr. Crawford’s presentation was the highlight of the conference and a much needed reminder for all of us (especially nurses) to keep it all balanced. Bill’s psychology background surely protruded through his messages and I know it was well-received by all!”

Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN
University Of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL

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“Feeling out of control and being shamed for those feelings is probably one of the most distressing feelings there is… especially if you are a kid”

~ Bill Crawford

Managing the Meltdown – Teaching Kids Self-Regulation

One of the questions I get the most from parents and teachers is how to deal with a kid in “meltdown mode?” If you have ever experienced this with your kids, you know how frustrating it can be. You try to tell the kid to calm down, but that seems to only make the situation worse. So what can be done?

First, we need to understand what is truly going on here, both in our kids, and sometime in ourselves. Chances are that they are feeling out of control and frustrated over some situation, and we are feeling out of control and frustrated by the fact that nothing we do seems to work.

For those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that this “out of control” feeling comes from the lower 20% of the brain (the limbic system and brainstem). This is also the part of the brain that just reacts without thinking, which is why much of what our kids say when they are in “meltdown mode” doesn’t make sense.

Unfortunately, when we try to stop this by either telling them to calm down, or by threatening them with negative consequences (or brute force), they now feel attacked and/or shamed for how they feel… which then drives them further into this lower, reactive, resistant brain.

The thing to remember is, at this time, trying to teach them anything or fix the problem won’t work, because they are not in the solution-focused part of the brain. Instead, letting them know that you can see how upset they are, and giving them a safe place to feel these feelings will be the first step to change.

Once their feelings have run their course (which, for kids, can be a very short time) you can begin to help them self-regulate, or have some degree of control or influence over how they feel in the future.

You see, in general, kids don’t like to feel bad. They like to have fun. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is their highest purpose, or the most important thing in their life. They wake up asking the question, “How can I have fun?” and often get upset when we get in the way of this goal.

Therefore, I suggest that we partner with this perspective versus trying to fight it (or fight them). The key is to catch them in the part of the brain that both loves to have fun, and can exert some degree of control over their feelings and behavior. I suggest that you do this by catching them right after they have done something they really enjoyed, and saying something like:

“Wow! you seemed to be having a lot of fun when you were (fill in the blank with whatever why we’re doing).” They will probably answer in the affirmative, and talk about what was so enjoyable. You can then say something like: “Yeah, however, I bet the other day when (describe some experience where they felt bad), I bet that wasn’t much, fun was it?” I bet that they will agree.

Then you say, “So, if I could show you a way to have more fun in the future versus feeling bad, would you like to know what it is?” Again, they will most likely answer in the affirmative.

Here is where you teach the the “BRAIN Model” from my book or any other number of methods that involve purposeful deep breathing, and choosing how one wants to feel. The reason that this has the potential for working here, versus when they are frustrated and upset, is (a) because they are actually in the solution-focused part of the brain, and (b) because you are partnering with what is most important to them, which is to feel good versus feeling bad.

This is described in more detail in my new book, “What to Say,” (Chapter 16 – What to Say…When your Toddler is Throwing a Tantrum). Feel free to pick this up from Amazon (or the ebook on my website) if you want more information.

One more caveat here…In order for this to be effective, it needs to be modeled. In other words, if our kids see us use these methods to regain control when we are angry or upset, it will have much more impact when we are wanting to teach them the same strategies.

The bottom line is that kids don’t always do what we say, but they will do what we do! In other words, they learn what they live, and we are the most powerful models they have for what they pick up. Therefore, let’s ensure that we are in the loving, compassionate, purposeful part of who we are when interacting with them so that they see what being this way (even in difficult situations) looks and feels like. This then puts us in the best position to teach them what they most need to learn, which is self-awareness and self-control, or the ability to influence how they think and feel versus always being at the mercy of the world around them.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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