Expert Opinion

How can I stay calm when my child is having a meltdown?

This is probably one of the most difficult aspects of parenting – managing our own emotions! I always tell parents to consider 3 important things when responding to their child’s big feelings…

1 – how am I feeling?

2 – how is my child feeling?

3 – what do they need from me right now?

By asking ourselves these questions, we are able to move on from our own emotional response to the situation, and provide our child with the emotional support they need in that moment. They might need comfort, help with organising their feelings, protection or even just our wisdom to help them navigate the situation.

Remember, your child’s meltdown is a result of their still-developing emotional regulation skills – and sometimes our expectations can be too high. Simply reminding ourselves of this can be incredibly helpful! The bonus of approaching situations this way, is that you are modelling calm behaviour, and as such teaching your child how to handle strong emotions.

What are some gentle parenting strategies for handling disobedience?


Interestingly, gentle parenting is often incorrectly associated with permissive parenting. However, gentle parenting is all about boundaries and discipline – with kindness.


Gentle parenting involves understanding the reasons behind difficult behaviours, or “disobedience”. So look for the underlying reasons for your child’s behaviour, and communicate with them to show you understand their perspective, while still maintaining consistent boundaries. My most helpful tip is to offer your child the perception of choice by offering choices instead of direct requests. So instead of “put your toys away” which is often followed with defiance and/or a tantrum, try “would you like to put your toys away before or after your snack?” which allows them to have some input.

How can I encourage my child to cooperate without using threats or bribes?


Threats and bribes will never work as an effective parenting strategy in the long term, so it’s great to hear you asking for alternatives. Sometimes, if we want our children to cooperate, we might need to make it worthwhile for them which can involve us as parents really considering our toddler’s perspective.


We need to think about why they might not be cooperating but also on the flip side, in which situations are they more cooperative? When we isolate these situations and praise our child for their cooperation in those situations when it does occur, we start to notice an increase in this behaviour.


I also suggest you focus on building a cooperative relationship. Involve your child in setting routines and rules so they feel a sense of ownership – this empowers them and makes them feel good about themselves.

What’s a quick way to reconnect with my child after a hectic day?


It can be so hard to switch our headspace to ‘connection mode’ after a busy day. However, quality, focused time, even if it’s brief, is incredibly valuable. I like to recommend parents spend a few minutes engaging in their child’s preferred activities with them.

This could be reading a book or playing a short game. LEGO and duplo were big hits in our house!  The trick here is really switching off from the busy-ness of your day by giving yourself permission to be present with your child. Focus on physical closeness and eye contact if this is comfortable for you and your child. Conversationally, you could ask them about their day and share some details about yours. These moments of connection strengthen your bond and provide a sense of security for your child.

How can I set limits gently but effectively?


Boundaries are such a crucial aspect of any relationship, and it is no different in parenting. So setting limits is essential if we want our children to develop healthy relationships with us and others (remember, our child’s relationship with us dictates how they relate to others in the future). The key is to set limits with empathy and respect, a key feature of gentle parenting.

Depending on your child’s level of language, you can briefly explain the reasons behind the limits in a way your child can understand if this is appropriate (but be mindful that too much language can just complicate and confuse!). Offering choices within those limits to provide a sense of control is also helpful. For example, “You can choose to play inside or in the backyard, but we’re not going to the park today.” Probably the most important factor here though is being consistent and following through with established boundaries so that your child knows what to expect and that your limits are genuine.

About the author

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive.
Amanda draws on her own experiences of being a parent along with her extensive training and well-honed skill set to get families thriving. Having worked with families for almost two decades, as a psychologist for the past 11 years in a variety of settings, and a valued board member of the Autism Behavioural Intervention Association, Amanda loves building the confidence of the adults in the lives of children so that they can connect meaningfully, help them reach their full potential, and live a life that reflects their values.
Often appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News and regularly featuring in print media, Amanda is on a mission to make the world better for kids through her clinical work, consulting to some of the biggest global toy manufacturers and educating the digital media industry about making the internet safer for kids.
Photo by Photo by Tatiana Syrikova