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Meltdown Dread

Meltdown Dread

I plunked her diaper-padded bottom into the shopping cart and directed two little legs into the slots. The mission began. I had one hour, one child with me, two others at home, and a whole lot of errands to accomplish. I shoved some apples into a bag and twisted a green wire around the top in one fluid motion, then swung to the carrots and grabbed a bag. I tossed it into the cart, flew past the potatoes, saw they were on sale, made a quick turn around and hoisted a 10-lb. bag with one hand into the cart. It filled quickly almost without the wheels slowing.

It was the O’s that threw us. By then the cart looked like a food hill, rounded and toppling. I pulled two cartoon character boxes of cereal off the shelf and one big bag of O’s. Those fateful O’s.

Charity, eighteen months going on eighteen years, twisted in her metal prison. Her arm reached behind her.

“No,” I said as the plastic bag caught in her tight fist. I pried her fingers away and removed her hand. She arched, screeched and turned to reach backward. I spun her back, and shoved that bag as far as I could from her without it sliding down the mountain. She shrieked like an owl, shook me off and twirled, grabbing at the O’s. I stopped the cart, planted my face in front of hers and repeated, “No, Charity,” and picked up the pace again.

Her whole body moved with the emphatic shake of her refusal. Determined, she made another defiant swipe at the bag. I grabbed that flying hand and tapped a light smack on the back of it. Not hard, not loud, not offensively, but with intention.

“No,” I said firmly, my nose inches from hers.

Without a second of hesitation she slapped me back with a smack that could be heard all the way down the aisle.

“Ow!” I pulled back, shocked.

I yanked my cart to a stop. One thing was abundantly apparent by the furrow on my little girl’s brows and her puckered lips. O’s are worth the fight.

And, just like that we were at the crossroads of the dreaded public meltdown.

You know what it looks like, and you don’t want to be that parent with that child.

Beg turns to whine. The whine turns to howl. Heads turn. At that point there is no rewind, and nowhere to hide. And is it always in the public eye that children either turn to gelatin or stiff as a board? To a mom its humiliation is like a megaphone announcing to the whole store, “I’m a bad parent.”

It is difficult to discipline yourself to do what is best for your child when 20 pairs of eyes are watching and waiting for your response. Here are a few things to arm yourself with as you head into the public battle of control.

  1. Be prepared. Most young children do not handle hunger, tiredness, too much stimulation and wanting something they can’t have. Sometimes answers are as simple as a pre-prepared snack or distraction that you can put into their hands. Explain your lines between asking versus begging. Tell them what is acceptable and what is not. Boundaries defined well are easier to follow. Tired children have a difficult time controlling their actions and emotions. If it is naptime, watch out!
  1. Make it as clear as possible what they can expect from you before the outing. “We will just get groceries, no toys.” “We will get something to eat after we are done.” Don’t reward bad behavior, but encourage good behavior and respect. “You are such a good helper by sitting so nicely in the cart.” “You are being very patient, I’m so proud of you.” “Thank you for obeying mommy in the store.”
  1. Make the time go faster by engaging them. “Can you help me choose a cereal?” Invite interaction. Play simple games. “Can you find the cat?” Involve all their senses. “What do you smell?” “Do you like the song they are playing?”
  1. You aren’t on stage. Don’t play to the audience. If possible, when conflict brings on too much drama, move to an area where you aren’t distracted and your child is less influenced by surroundings or onlookers.
  1. Calm yourself. Calm the confrontation. Talk quietly, firmly, and eye to eye. When possible, pick up and hold your child before the frenzy becomes fever pitched. In your arms, they feel security and love. Mom’s lips against an ear can whisper calm confidence, and you may avert a meltdown.

Discipline when administered from a heart of love affirms love.

“…Because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Proverbs 3:12; NIV),

Each child is unique. All children go a little crazy at times. It happens. Meltdowns aren’t fun, but they provide opportunity. God entrusted parents with the discipline of children, and He reminds us that it is through His discipline that He shows His love. As parents, we are then modelers of His love to our children. Ultimately God holds the key to every heart and He knows how to calm even meltdowns of moms and dads.

By: Sylvia Schroeder serves as Women’s Care Coordinator at Avant Ministries. She and her husband raised four children in Italy and Germany, where they were missionaries with Avant. Their children are all married and they have twelve grandchildren. Visit her blog, When the House is Quiet, at

Join us at for our parenting blog each Monday-Friday and for info about the Just 18 Summers novel.

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