top of page

How to deal with a toddler meltdown

Meltdowns. Sometimes you can see them coming, other times they come from nowhere. Sometimes they’re easily resolved, and sometimes they’re so crazy-ridiculous you can’t help but laugh at how exasperating your toddler is.

The meltdown that sticks in my head and continues to baffle me even now, happened when my daughter was 3 years old. It came out of nowhere and had me wanting to hug her and shake her in equal measures. (Just to be clear, I didn’t actually shake her!)

It was a nice sunny day and we’d been for a walk at a National Trust property. It wasn’t long after things had opened up again after the first lockdown, and I was just pleased to be out the house – not having to watch Peppa Pig for the 3,000th time that day or pick Play-doh out the carpet.

We were heading back to the car, and I was secretly hoping she might fall asleep on the way back so I didn’t have to play 20 Questions and would be able to listen to ‘Steve Wright in the Afternoon’ in peace while I drove us home.

As I opened the car to dump my bag before getting her in her car seat, she climbed into my seat and started moving the steering wheel, pretending to drive. We laughed and I let her ‘drive’ for a minute or so. But when I told her it was time to get in her seat, the meltdown began.

“I want to drive home!” She wailed.

This was a new one on me. Normally she’d kick up a fuss because I’d cut her toast into squares instead of triangles, or because I wouldn’t let her have a sweetie so close to teatime.

By this point, she was inconsolable – screaming, kicking, crying. So, how do you make it stop?

Here are my top 5 tips for dealing with toddler meltdowns...

1. Stay calm

Easier said than done, I know. But the more angry or frustrated you get, the longer it’ll take for your toddler to calm down.

Take a deep breath and let your toddler do their thing for a minute or two to get it out of their system.

Importantly, ignore onlookers. An elderly couple walked past our car while she was screaming and refusing to get out of the driver’s seat. I saw the wife give her husband a look as if to say, ‘she can’t control her kid’. I’m not sure if that lady had kids of her own and had experienced toddler meltdowns, but trying to reason with a 3-year-old while they’re in meltdown mode is like eating a sugar-coated doughnut without licking your lips. It’s impossible.

2. Encourage them to breathe

It may sound silly but if they’re really worked up, they can forget to breathe. If you start taking slow and deep breaths in and out, they will often copy you. My daughter learnt a technique at nursery where she slowly runs one finger up and down the fingers on the other hand and breathes in when she goes up to the tip of a finger and breathes out when she runs her finger down the other side. Surprisingly, it works well, and she often does it herself to calm down.

3. Acknowledge their feelings

Once they’ve calmed down a little, crouch down to their level, get them to look at you and tell them you’re sorry they’re upset.

In my best calm mummy voice, I said: “I’m sorry you’re upset because you want to drive home, but you need to pass a special test before you’re allowed to drive. Plus, you can’t reach the pedals. And you don’t know the way home.”

It can be hard to reason with a toddler because they don’t understand logic or common sense. Sometimes they don’t even know why they’re upset, so how the hell are we supposed to know?! If you’re baffled by their behaviour, ask how you can make things better.

I’m not saying I’ll give into whatever my daughter demands, but it can be a good way to start the negotiations and resolve the situation (see tip 5).

4. Give them a cuddle

My daughter often infuriates the hell out of me – like when she had a meltdown because I’d cut her toast into squares instead of triangles, even though she’d told me she wanted squares! But sometimes she breaks my heart – like when she doesn’t understand why she can’t drive us home. Cuddles make everything better and the situation can often be diffused with a good squeeze.

5. Compromise or negotiate (commonly known as bribery)

I’m guilty of doing this quite a lot, but it’s always on my terms. I don’t promise anything lavish. On this occasion, she agreed to let me drive home if she could have a biscuit and listen to her songs in the car.

Honestly, I don’t know what’s worse: Her crying or listening to a bunch of precocious kids work their way through 10 classic nursery rhymes?!


bottom of page