As I finished up our story and gave her the usual goodnight/goodbye kiss on her forehead, she grabbed me. She clung to my shirt, refusing to let go. The more I tried to pull her off the more she held.
I told her enough was enough. It was time for bed and time for me to go. She was having none of it. She held onto me, first laughing at being able to hold me back, then a bit more frantic has I seemed more intent on leaving.
What was going on?
Putting my 3 year old to bed is usually straightforward. We have a set routine and follow it each night. The result is pleasant and easy bedtimes, with little fighting, objecting, or attempts to keep me there.
Tonight was different.
Why had bedtime gone sideways tonight? As she lay crying and clinging to me for dear life, I sat in puzzled silence, racking my brain for an answer.
My ah-ha moment came a few seconds later.
“We didn’t get to spend any time together today did we? And you miss Mommy?”. Her shoulders slumped which meant I’d guessed right. I pulled her in close, held her, and told her I was sad about that too.
We sat there in sadness together.
After a few moments in silence, we started talking about how much fun we’d been having together and how the weekend would come soon and we’d get to spend more time together.
We’d just spent a week in Mexico and this was our first day back to work, back to daycare, back to reality. We made an abrupt shift from spending all day together to spending zero quality time together that day.
I didn’t even notice. I was too busy rushing around trying to get everything done. Groceries, work, unpacking, laundry, dinner…
Sometimes in the midst of my busyness I forget that my children need me. Sure, I take care of all of their basic necessities but I forget that they need me to stop rushing around and focus on them for a moment. It’s easy for me to get lost in my to-do list and forget to see things from their perspective.
It hadn’t occurred to me that we’d be spending so little time together. In my mind, it was back to reality. No big deal.
Sometimes I forget that going back to our regular routine is just as much of a shock to the system as going away.
This bedtime meltdown was my reminder.
Maybe if I had prepped her about what to expect then tonight’s meltdown could have been avoided. But maybe not. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that I recognized the behaviour for what it was: an ask for help. A sign of struggling.
As you head back to work after this holiday break, as your children head back to daycare or school, as life turns back to normal and meltdowns occur, remember this.
Remember that meltdowns, whining, tantrums, hitting, biting…these are all signs of struggle.
While our first inclination may be to fight back, punish, and try to control the situation we must remember that there is always a reason behind the behaviour. And if we deal with that reason, if we address the real issue, then two things will happen.
One, the behaviour will disappear or it will be lessened. It may go away simply by acknowledging it, or it may take developing a solution and strategy together so you know what to do next time it happens.
Two, it will help your child understand their feelings and why their acting out. It teaches them how to deal with their emotions and that their emotions are valid.
So, as you enter the post-holiday transition period, expect some upset, struggle and meltdowns. See these difficulties as opportunities to understand your child and help them through their big emotions.
Talk to your kids about what to expect and know that it might be a little rough at first.
I’m thankful for our post-Mexico meltdown. I’m thankful for the reminder to slow down. And I’m thankful I now know what to expect over the coming days as we get back to our regular routine yet again.