How we got back our parenting power after years of mismanaging meltdowns

When our son was very young, our family life was a daily struggle. He would have long, loud meltdowns, and we didn’t know exactly what was going on.

Sometimes the meltdowns seemed to be triggered by nothing, like when he’d start screaming in the evenings when he got tired.

These were not temper tantrums, but something else. He wasn’t trying to get his way, because there was no “way” to get. He just seemed to be falling apart. It was heartbreaking, frustrating, and exhausting. We later learned about his sensory processing issues.

What we were doing

Back then, our family was in such chaos that we’d often do whatever it took to stop the meltdowns. Sometimes we resorted to “bribery” and other distractions to calm him down. We did things like buy him toy trains if he went a day without a meltdown, hoping that would get him to self-regulate a bit more. And every time we did, we second-guessed our actions.

The truth is, even then we knew these weren’t the best decisions. We felt like we weren’t being the best parents we could be. We also felt like we were going against our overall parenting philosophy. But we just didn’t know what else to do.

We felt helpless. We walked on eggshells all the time. When our son had a meltdown in public that we couldn’t stop, we felt the glaring judgment of others.

Overall we felt alone — like no other parents knew what we were going through.

What we realized

As our son got older and was able to regulate a little better, we found that some of the things we did to avert a meltdown had become habits — and not good ones.

Our maneuvers had turned into something he’d grown to expect. It was like we’d created a situation where he needed to have things be the same every time, or else he would break down.

We realized that our son had a lot of power in our household, and he would sometimes use it to his advantage. He seemed to think he had a say in everything and that he was an authority figure in our house. In fact, he showed little respect for any kind of adult authority figure.

This unhappy situation only confirmed what we’d known all along. What we were doing was wrong, and we regretted it.

Regaining our parenting power

We decided it was time to take back the power in our relationship with our son. It was hard to make the change back to being parents with authority and raise him in a way that would help him grow and become more resilient. But we did it.

For one thing, we set ground rules that come with consequences if he broke them. One rule was that he couldn’t talk to us disrespectfully. If he did, we told him he was doing it, so he had a chance to stop. If he continued to speak disrespectfully, we turned off his internet access.

We also started using a blunt response if he questioned the logic behind our parenting decisions. We’d simply say, “We don’t owe you an explanation.”

Things have been back on track for a long time now. We sometimes wonder, though, how much further our son could have come if we’d made different decisions in the past. Would he be better off now if we hadn’t bent to his behavior so often back then? Or was stopping the meltdowns what he actually needed at that point? I don’t know.

What I do know is that we’re in a much better place as parents now. We’ve learned what our son has control over and what he doesn’t. We’ve learned when to intervene and when he just needs to work through it. And when we look back, we don’t dwell on our mistakes. We just keep moving forward.

Have you ever second-guessed your parenting decisions? Watch as an expert talks about this common problem — and the importance of moving forward.


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