WTF to do (or not do) when your kid is freaking out

So last week I wrote about a moment when my kid was freaking out. Not a toddler. An older kid. Maybe it was a tantrum, maybe it was anxiety, but I kind of think it was just over-exhaustion. Even though I don’t know exactly what it was for him, I know exactly what it was for me. For me it was a “Holy crap I’m gonna pull my hair out because I don’t know WTF to do” moment.  And yes, that’s the clinical term for it.

Anyways, after it went on for a while and everything I said was just met with more frustration and freaking out and I was clearly doing everything wrong, I learned a very powerful lesson. He didn’t want me to solve anything for him. All he wanted was for me to be there by his side. So I ended up lying next to him until he calmed down. And then afterward I wrote about it.

And you guys wrote back. A LOT. The comments were flooded with totally kickass amazing ideas about these freakout moments and what we as parents can do. So here goes. Here are 8 things I learned from the experience and from you guys:

1. When your child is freaking out, ask them this very simple question:
“Do you want to be helped, heard or hugged?”
Because sometimes they want us to help them solve their problem, and sometimes they just want us to listen, and sometimes all they want is a big hug while they’re going through it.

2. A lot of you mentioned a children’s book called “The Rabbit Listened,”  so I went and looked it up, and you are absolutely right. This book says it all. If you have little kids, I highly recommend reading it together BEFORE these freakout moments happen. And if your kids are too old for it, that’s okay. The message works for any age.
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3. Having a rational conversation during these freakout moments is almost impossible, so have a rational conversation AFTER it’s done. That way you’ll be ready for the next time. Because there’s almost always a next time. Sorry.

4. As parents we just want our kids to be okay, so when they’re not okay, we want to fix it. But sometimes the emotions just have to play out until they run out. So unfortunately, the way to fix it is time. It won’t be fun, and every minute will feel like an hour, but this too shall pass. Eventually.

5. Instead of telling your child to take deep breaths, which will almost definitely piss them off and make them freak out even more, regulate your own breathing next to them. Don’t say anything. While they’re sucking in air between sobs, just take your own deep, long breaths. With any luck, eventually your calm breathing will be contagious.

6. If you accidentally yell or freak out because you’re frustrated and don’t know what to do, just apologize to them later.
A. Saying you’re sorry will help you feel better.
And B. You might find they apologize right back.

7. Don’t threaten to walk away while they’re freaking out. You can ask them if they want you to leave, but threatening to leave is like saying, “When you’re going through a bad time, I won’t be there for you.” And that’s the last message you want to convey.

8. Just be silently present. You know those videos of when babies are first born and they’re screaming their heads off and then the nurse puts the baby in their mother’s arms and the baby immediately calms down? That. Just our presence can be comforting.

I hope this helps. It’s a list I wish I had years ago.

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