Meltdowns and Mood Swings

Are you worried that your child’s meltdowns and mood swings might be  signs of ADHD? Do you ever find yourself completely at a loss, with no idea how to respond?

You’ve probably worked out that systems of punishment, time-outs and rewards are rarely, if ever, successful, but what else is there?

Responding Rather than Reacting

Best results can be achieved when we learn how to respond rather than react to the behaviours that challenge our sense of calm. Rather than “attention seeking”, as is often thought, your children are usually seeking connection. Their behaviours are probably telling you that they are feeling overwhelmed, and need your help to feel safe.

Not Bad Kids

They are not bad kids, but are simply responding to some big feelings that they don’t understand, and do not yet have the words to express. Reacting in anger doesn’t often help. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Your anger and frustration can only seem to make things worse.

Our reactions are often a result of subconscious memories from our own childhood. Our bodies are wired to react to a perceived threat, based on past experiences. Becoming aware of our own reactions, and learning to regulate our own emotional response is the best way to help our children.

Possible Scenario

Please note: this is not meant to resemble anyone in particular.

Angela picks up her 5 year old daughter, Sally after school. During the day Sally’s stress levels had built up, and they discharged as they drove home. She did this by angrily yelling and kicking the back of Angela’s car seat.

Angela, now also angry, reacted by saying “If you don’t stop, you can get out and walk home”.

Sally was five, and they were seven kilometres from home.

As Angela’s thinking brain came back online, she wondered why she had said something that sounded so ridiculous. It was as though her mouth had opened before her brain had time to work out what was happening.

Understanding the Behaviour

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

The stress of her daughter’s behaviour had triggered something from Angela’s past, causing her to react automatically. Angela’s parents had been easily stressed people. Her mother was anxious during the pregnancy, and Angela’s dad had an explosive temper.

As a result she learnt to fear anger. Her body’s immediate response was to shut out the frightening sound of his voice. Later, as a parent, when Sally became angry or frustrated, Angela’s nervous system automatically reacted to shut herself off from the experience. As a result she found it difficult to be with her child’s angry outbursts.

Realising she had a problem, Angela sought help from a therapist. Becoming aware of what was happening in her own body, Angela learnt strategies to calm herself. As a result, Angela learnt how to regulate her own emotional responses. As a result she was much more able to be present with Sally in her distress. 

Family History

These stresses from her own childhood, and her inherited family history, added to Angela’s own stressful pregnancy. As a result it is no wonder that Sally was born highly sensitive. Her nervous system, that was developing before she was born, was wired to expect a hostile world. This meant she was easily overwhelmed when stressed.

In the Classroom

Adapting to the school environment can be overwhelming for a sensitive child. While your child may appear to be coping, often the stress response is just being suppressed. During the day at school, Sally’s stress levels had built up to the point that she simply couldn’t hold it in any longer… and out it came, angrily kicking the back of her mother’s seat in the car.

Small Events Can Become Big Explosions

Stress reactions can happen even when your child is at home during the day. Seemingly small events can build up, and peak in the evening, when everyone is feeling a bit tired, and in the least possible space to respond calmly and coherently. These are those occasions when the most seemingly minor incidents can set off a major behavioural explosion. Feeling already stressed after a big day yourself, it is easy to react without thinking.

Remember, you are not a “bad” parent, and this is not a “bad” child. As parents, you can only ever do your best. Your nervous systems are both simply reacting to something that is perceived to be threatening. As the above scenario illustrates, the impact of parental anger can pass through generations. We can find ourselves reacting without realising, or understanding why.

Circle of Security

You might also like to consider the internationally recognised Circle of Security Parenting program. This is an 8 week relationship-based early intervention parenting program. It is designed to help build connection and understanding, and can be offered either individually, or in small groups.

The Next Step

If any of this sounds familiar to you, and you would like some help in identifying your own behavioural triggers, you might consider booking an initial parent consultation. In the safety of a confidential space, I can help you recognise when those feelings of distress are starting to surface in your own body.

The next step is to learn how to honour these feelings, so that you can respond rather than react when stressed. The outcome is growth in awareness and understanding.

Often a child’s behaviour can seem to change magically when parents address the stresses and tensions in their own lives.

Related Articles

ADHD – an Holistic Approach to Healing

Toddler Tantrums

Circle of Security Parenting Program

Anxious Children


About Rosalind

Since 2005 I have been helping children with learning and behavioural challenges such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD and other sensory processing difficulties. I use an holistic, or whole child approach combining counselling with a development movement program, known as The Extra Lesson. This program addresses underlying immaturities in early development that are contributing to their learning and behavioural challenges. Sessions are available both online and in person at Moruya South Head.

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