When your older child’s emotions melt down

 In MOM, Parenting
What do you do when your older child’s emotions seem to melt down before your very eyes for seemingly ridiculous reasons? And you, as the parent, aren’t the best at communicating, either? Here is our story about how finding one little tool has helped us navigate these big emotions with respect and openness.

Losing control of emotions

‘Here we go again,’ I thought, dismally. My newly turned 9-year-old had a complete and utter meltdown right in front of me. Scrunched up hands, tears of frustration, a screwed up face going beetroot red and an unnerving agonized wail.
It was something to do with an action (an extremely minuscule one) of her little sister. Poppy felt I hadn’t dolled out nearly enough punishment in response.
I was aware that this tantrum went a little more deep than the event in question, but I had absolutely no idea how to approach the issue – especially in the face of such raw disintegration of emotions.

A mother’s helplessness

 I felt so helpless and more than a bit scared – she seemed so out of control of her emotions, so unusual for my normally level-headed girl.
She eventually calmed down and I asked her a few questions but the answers were pretty unrevealing.
We cuddled, but the cuddle was tinged with sadness, and my unfulfilled yearning to reach out and connect when Poppy most needed it.
I spent the evening thinking — mainly about what a crap mum I was. My daughter was growing up and becoming a wonderful, passionate young lady, full of emotions. But me, her own mother and guardian in life, couldn’t help her deal with the onslaught of all those new, unhinged and scary emotions.
If I couldn’t help her now, where would we both be in six years time? But in the midst of all this self-bashing a little seed of an idea crept into my mind.

A little book with huge results

We both find it hard to express ourselves verbally right now, but we love to read and write. We both keep a journal.
Perhaps, just perhaps, I could find a way for us to connect with the very thing we are both good at.
I scoured the internet. Amazingly, I found a book that had been created for this precise reason. It even came with prompts for when we got stuck and ideas to inspire us to write about other stuff too.
It has worked brilliantly. The book is just between us, just as its name suggests.  We only write inside it when we need to and nobody else can read what we write. I keep it in my ‘secret drawer’ in my bedroom where only Poppy can go if she needs the book.
We plant it under each other’s pillows when we have written. We must always write a reply without guilt, fear or retribution. A safe place for opening up about scary emotions.
Poppy has revealed so many thoughts that I would never have heard otherwise. And the written conversation even seems to have opened up our verbal communication. We are both happier for it.
And thankfully, we have had no more meltdowns. For now.


As your child gets older, emotions start to run high. Learn what to do when your child moves into tween and teen emotional meltdowns and how to continue to communicate through it all. #childhood #preteen #teenager #parentingLittle girl toy bear and  via ShutterStock.com

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Showing 6 comments
  • Lisa

    I think emotional needs, both a child’s and a parent’s, are among the most important needs in the world. I’m so glad to see you’ve found a way to work together to share your feelings in a healthy way 🙂

  • Tamara

    That’s beautiful!
    I have a friend who shares a journal with her introvert son for similar reasons.

    PS: Is Poppy your eldest kid? I was the first born in our family, and I OFTEN felt my parents were much too lenient with my little brother.

  • Kate

    Oh my goodness this post is so timely for me. My 7 year old seems to be having meltdowns and I am sadly not understanding her very well. Thank you so much for the book recommendation. I think it’s a sweet and lovely idea.

  • Hanka

    I think this is a good idea. My 7yo son is an introvert and this could work for us.

  • Marisa

    Using writing and journals as a way of communication can work wonders. It it a safer space, and also gives enough time and space to formulate thoughts. I find it even useful in couple relationships, when it is sometimes hard to express what we are feeling in the very moment of heated debate. So I can only imagine that in a mother-child relationship it can be a useful tool as well. I will keep it in mind 🙂

  • Claire

    Lovely idea – I think I read about the same/similar thing on Sarah’s own blog. Definitely something I’ll be doing once my eldest can read and write a bit more competently!

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