Friday, May 20, 2011

Dealing with Evening Meltdowns

The evening meltdown.  A rotten way to end the day for everyone involved. We’ve had, uh, some experience with these situations, so I’m sharing ideas that have worked for us

1. Stay extremely calm.

Harder to do than it is to say, and the worst part is that might not be a quick fix.  Even if I stay as cool as a cucumber, Dylan often gets ramped up initially, I guess because he isn’t getting the strong reaction he was looking for.  But over time, it’s difficult for him to keep up his anger and defiance in the face of unrelenting, monotonous calm.  Just react simply to the situation in front of you and don’t talk about anything that happened earlier or project about later.  Be dispassionate.  No reaction beyond what’s necessary. 

2. Be very loving.

Much like being calm, it’s hard to stay mad when someone is only showing love.  And also like being calm, there’s often an initial negative reaction. But most of the time, it’s what he really wants. I’ll ask him if he wants a hug or wants to sit in my lap, and usually he will.  He might still try to argue, but it’s easier to calm him down and even make him laugh.

3. Give your child a "win."

It does not have to be what you are arguing over. Dylan has been adamant lately about going for fast food after school and I have been equally adamant about not doing it.  On one occasion recently, by letting him sit in the car and pretend to drive, he felt like he was getting something he wanted.  It wasn’t fast food, but it was an alternative and moved him past the defiance and argument.

4. Give a little protein.

ADHD meds are notorious for affecting appetite.  In Dylan’s case, even before he started the meds, he often skipped lunch in order to play more (lunch and recess are combined at his school).  Whatever the cause, I think that not enough food and low blood sugar have a lot to do with his evening melt downs.  So I've started giving him cheese and crackers or something else with a shot of protein in it as soon as he gets home.  It generally helps to even out his mood pretty quickly.

5. Set firm rules on TV and screen time.

TV and video/computer games can kick off some meltdowns.  If screen rules are uneven or nonexistent, it’s hard to tell your child it’s time to turn it off if they could do it yesterday.  For us, the rule is no afternoon/evening TV during the week, and exceptions are rare.  You don’t need to be as strict, just set a rule and stick to it, no matter what.  Remember that there are plenty of other things that kids can do with themselves.  In fact, with summer coming up, I’m planning to work up a list of alternative activities with Dylan, then put them in jar so that when he’s “bored” he can pull one out. 

It’s important to remember that this, too, shall pass.  As awful as the meltdowns can be, they will end eventually.  By minimizing the impact you will hopefully make them end more quickly, but more importantly, you will minimize the emotional fall out for both you and your child. 


  1. Thank you for sharing these! I'm still learning the tricks to stopping the meltdowns with my daughter. Each kid is so different, but these "basics" certainly help!

  2. Hi, Chris! I agree - each child is different from another, and they are also different at different times, seasons, and ages which makes it so hard! But consistency helps.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. Great tips. Also, remind yourself that meltdowns aren't personal. The child isn't manipulating or being ungrateful (usually). More likely, the child is out of control and needs your help getting back to a calm state.

  4. So true, Kelly! And as you well know, that can be tough, especially if you've had a rough day. But remembering that can make the difference between a bump in the evening and an all-out evening fiasco. Thanks for your input!