Parents Corner

How to Support a Very, Very Upset Child


There are few more demanding parenting moments than dealing with a crying, red-faced, screaming child, especially in public spaces and other places where you have an audience. Here are my top tips for managing the notorious meltdown:

1. Prioritise safety. Wherever possible, remove objects, other children, or people from the surrounding space, instead of grabbing, holding down, or dragging your child. Of course, there will be situations where you must physically restrain or remove your child. If so, take your child to a safe, quiet, and empty space.
2. Once everyone is safe, PAUSE. Take one long and slow breath and then, exhale all air from your lungs. This will reduce your emotional flooding. If you’re not calm, your child has absolutely no chance of calming down.
3. Remind yourself, “my child is struggling”. The way you view your child influences what you do next. Thoughts such as, “she’s doing this on purpose” or “he’s so spoiled” increases anger and reduces your capacity bring your best self to this challenge.
4. If your child is still doing something unsafe such as hitting or kicking, you can hold a limit with love. Repeat one simple phrase in a firm but calm tone, e.g., “you can be angry, but you can’t hit me.”
5. This is not a teaching moment. Many parents ask me how to teach children to manage their feelings during emotional flooding, but you cannot teach someone to swim while they are drowning. Extremely upset children need help, not lessons.
6. Consider whether your child has any unmet physical needs such as hunger, toileting, tiredness, thirst, illness, or pain and attend to this as best you can.
7. Look beneath the surface issue. Meltdowns often occur after a parent sets a reasonable boundary, e.g., no more sweets or finishing a fun activity on time. What children ask for is often different from what they need. Your child might simply need help managing what they feel in response to your “no”. Acknowledge this with a simple reflection, “you’re sad we’re leaving the park.”

Learn more skills to manage common parenting challenges by joining NCNS parent education programs. You can find out what’s happening at

Article Written + Submitted by

Monica Purcell | Family Facilitator

Nepean Community & Neighbourhood Services


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