What do I do when my 2 year old has a complete meltdown and he won’t communicate to tell me what’s wrong? Do I let him flail and cry it out, do I ask him questions? Use stern voice? Loving voice? (I sound like a bi-polar person switching). Distractions aren’t working. Soother wasn’t working. Eventually after 10 mins or so he took a bottle and calmed down. He was overtired. So the answer is to put him down BEFORE but what do I do when we miss that window?
Dear Mama Who Missed The Sleep Window,
Thanks for writing in with your question. We have all been there – missing the sleep window. It is most definitely a test of patience.
From how you have described the situation, we know that a basic need for your two-year-old was not met – SLEEP! It is difficult to reason with a toddler once his emotions have escalated. I would avoid asking any questions as he likely won’t be able to answer. Even as adults, it is difficult to have a rational conversation once our emotions have escalated.
Children need to know that they have an adult in their corner who will hold space for their “big emotions.” When your toddler is having a meltdown, he’s communicating a need that is not being met. In this case, we know that he is overtired. He’s also learning boundaries and exploring the relationship. Can my adult handle me? Can I still trust my adult to be here for me? Will my adult know what to do? Can my adult help me?
As a parent we all want to say YES! Yes, we will be there, sweetheart, whenever and whatever you need. We also know that parenting is hard, especially at the end the of the day when everyone is tired.
Here are my 4 tips for toddler bedtimes:
Get down on his level
Bend down and meet your child at his eye level. It’s less intimidating for a child when an adult is at eye level.
Empathize and state what you see
Let him know that you’re in his corner and describe what you see, rather than what you think is going on for him. You can try something like this:
“It’s late and passed your bedtime. I can see you’re rubbing your eyes. We’re all tired. Let’s get to bed.”
“I see your tears. You’re tired and your body needs to rest. Let me help you get to bed.”
“You’re having some big feelings. I’m here. Let’s calm down together and go to bed.”
Know your own limits. If you feel yourself getting angry or annoyed, it’s fair to share that with your son in a respectful way. If you need to walk away to collect yourself, let him know you’ll be back. You might say something like:
“I can see you’re frustrated. I am too. I need to go take a few breaths in a different room. I’ll come back in a minute.”
“I’m starting to get angry and I need a break. I’m going to let you cry for a minute. I’ll be right back.”
Implement a bedtime routine
Children thrive on routines. It gives structure to their day and can help calm anxiety when they know what to expect next. Once you have an established a bedtime routine, you can use this anywhere, even if he’s spending a night at grandma’s. You can also modify the routine to start while you’re out (ie. during a special event) and when you return home, all that’s left is to go to bed. A simple bedtime routine might look like this:
– Change into pyjamas
– Brush teeth and use bathroom
– Go to bed for a story
– Lights out
– Lie down/sit together for a song/prayer/goodnights
Use pictures to describe bedtime
You can draw, or even take pictures on a tablet or phone of your child doing their bedtime routine. Children love stories, especially if they’re in it! When your child is calm during the day, go over what bedtime looks like. You can state expectations and recite the routine. Once he is familiar with the routine, ask him what comes next. This will help him take ownership of HIS routine.
Often times when our child is having a meltdown, we want to ask what is wrong, or ask why are they behaving that way? Developmentally, a two-year-old would be incapable of telling you why. If he could communicate the why, there likely wouldn’t be the meltdown. Most two-year-olds are learning language to describe their day-to-day activities and needs, and emotional language (describing feelings) usually develops after attaining words to describe their needs.
A phrase that I use both at home and in the classroom is, “How can I help?” Another simple one is, “What do you need?” If a child is non-verbal, I usually say, “Can you show me?” and lend my hand in hopes that he/she will guide me what is needed.
I hope that bedtime becomes a little easier for you and that you all rest well!