Post holiday meltdowns. Transitioning back into the week after a long and busy weekend.
It is 6:30am, my phone starts vibrating with messages.
“Help!” “My daughter had a fun weekend but today she is screaming about nothing, what can I do?” “My son is upset about everything!” “Why are my kids so unhappy? They were awesome all weekend!”
My own kids are still asleep.
I start writing a post about my expectations for today, the day after a three day weekend spent with family and friends.
My daughter wakes up.
My day begins.
Seven AM. More messages. My middle child is awake now. The two younger ones are eating breakfast between melting down about each and every little thing.
I lost my draft. I decide I’ll leave the topic alone. Focus on today.
Eight AM. My oldest wakes. I playfully offer breakfast in bed. He wants to eat with his brother and sister. I say okay. He immediately starts a brawl.
I think “I will write about today, and my expectations. It will help me to commit to the approach I want to take.”
Eight thirty. My oldest is off to school. I am not writing. I am perched in the attic before it becomes too hot, rooting through garbage bags of clothes looking for the 5T shorts and grumpy that the off-brand masking tape that I used for labels apparently becomes brittle paper and falls off into a useless pile of labels on the floor. I find the shorts and my kids make them rain down the ladder into the hallway below.
Nine AM. I start to write. They start to fight. I put my phone down. I sit down. I talk to them and we come up with a plan. We get dressed and sneak outside to the sandbox to dig. I pull up a chair and try again.
Which takes me to here, my plan for today.
I understand that one of the needs of childhood is stability and routine.
We did a lot over the weekend. Saw a lot of people. We met a lot of the kids needs, but we did not meet the need for stability and routine.
There is nothing wrong or bad about that, but is has consequences. My children will have a hard time with self regulation today. They will have a hard time with communication, with moods.
When they are upset I will stay present, I will make sure that I am listening. I will verbalize what it is they are trying to tell me, and I will stay calm.
(I move to toast a bagel. Keenie starts to scream and cry. I breathe in, I breathe out. I squat down to eye level. “Keenie, can you tell me what is upsetting you?” She can’t yet. I wait until she can. She does not want her bagel toasted. I remind her that she can say “mommy, mommy, please don’t toast my bagel.” She smiles relieved and says those words through her tears. I tell her of course I won’t toast it if she doesn’t want it toasted. I stay with her for a minute more, crouched by her chair waiting for her tears to pass. “Keenie, are you okay now? Can I get you your bagel?” She is not throwing a fit to manipulate me. She saw me moving too quickly for her to remember the words to use, because over the weekend things have worked differently.)
I will expect them to be off schedule, off routine, expecting things that are not part of our normal days.
(“Isaac, can you please put on your shoes and socks?” I ask. His bus is a few minutes away. He puts on his shoes first, then puts his socks on over them. He comes to me laughing. I am less than amused. “Isaac, there is a time to be funny and a time to follow routine. Right now your bus is about to come. Can you please get ready the way you are supposed to?” I ask. He does. His bus comes. He is ready and he runs out the door just on time.)
It’s not that they have unlearned the things that they need to know. They’ve just fallen out of practice in these past three or four days. And little kids don’t have great impulse control or self regulation skills. They rely heavily on routine, on expectations and on practice.
Today we will practice. We will reinforce. We will remember the words that we use and the tones of voice that we use. We will rebuild our connections, we will stay as calm as we can stay.
We will also spend as much time doing quiet things in a “yes” space as we possibly can. Outside in the garden. In the sandbox. On the swings.
I have a lot to do today. A lot of things to catch up on.
But the most important part of today will be this. The gentle transition back into routine.Staying calm through meltdowns. Understanding why they are happening, and being patient while this storm passes.
I can’t just say “Okay folks. Back to the routine. Everyone be happy and polite and nice and cooperative!”
And if I expect that? We’ll just have a rotten week instead of a tough day.
Today will be the long slow gradual transition that they need.