fox_tom_1This may be a somewhat unusual column for an older (who said aging?) deacon who most often writes about faith and spirituality and such. But I’ve recently been close to something that I’d like to talk with you about.... perhaps asking your ideas or help.

Without going into details, I have recently been around... and in two instances actually involved in MELTDOWNs in children. I might better be writing this column for Faith and Family Live in a blog format and asking for your feedback and experience with this troubling area of raising some children. But here at Catholic Mom, I wondered if you have had much experience with this ‘unbalanced displeasure’ in your young ones? If you have experienced it -- how often has it happened? Are there specific ‘triggers’ such as plans being changed? Changes in schedule? Failure to get enough rest? Family changes?

As I started working on this column -- I floated these same questions on Facebook, Twitter and Plurk. I heard from people who said it was related (only) to the child not having enough rest. I don’t know enough to agree or disagree with that -- but I wonder also about over-stimulation of our children these days.

Someone suggested whispering quietly that the behavior was not acceptable. Continuing to whisper until the meltdown ends. Someone said that they just ignore it -- continue to ignore it until the child realizes that it has to end and that it won’t get the better of the parent.

Someone said something like this as you are calmly speaking to the child going through the meltdown... "I understand you are mad/upset/angry/frustrated because (________ insert reason). I understand.... I understand."

I’m not talking about autistic behavior or about children with psychological issues. Instead, I’m referring to children who are a joy to be with under most circumstances. But in some, there are short periods of complete inability to deal with their emotions and circumstances. And what happens is crying, loud and very emotional speaking -- perhaps even including acting out, striking or uncharacteristic language.

So have you had such experiences? Our children are grown now so we don’t deal with this in our immediate family. And to be truthful -- I don’t remember this sort of extreme behavior in our children... and I hasten to assure they were far from perfect kids. But in three different families that we know and love... in these three families where there are good and loving parents and no significant emotional issues going on -- I’ve seen these meltdowns. And back in Colorado, I knew a young family with a doctor and his wife and two young children. And there were some episodes of this phenomenon in this foursome.

I recently completed a distance learning course on deacon ministry to families and married couples. We had no training and I profess no competence in this area at all. And so I struggle to know what the right and proper handling for these episodes is. As a deacon.. as someone who cares for and loves to be around young families... I would love some spiritual and practical skills for ministry in this area.

Some sources suggest letting the meltdowns run their course and then helping to restore emotional normality. One resource suggested recognizing the beginnings of a ‘meltdown’ and naming what the behavior usually involves -- in effect telling the young 3 or 4 year old: "Here is what happens when you become this upset....." And this resource suggested that it will help to defuse the behavior by predicting it in advance. Sounds a little strange -- but it may be that a child will decide not to do something because an adult says this is what I think you will do. And I have seen some indications that firm, non-acceptance even to the extent of physical restraint is necessary to ‘teach’ that such behavior isn’t proper and must stop.

A pause for prayer. That’s certainly what such behavior  and any parenting trial or challenge calls for. A prayer ... that’s what I’m doing as I work on this column. Asking God for help for moms and dads in this time and age. As much as we can say that things never really change, I’m wondering if things aren’t changing in and with our young, young children? I pray -- I ask Mother Mary to intercede for you who are living these child-rearing years trying to know what is right.

And this prayer for help is a way of working into a mildly related area. How do you react to those times when you go to Mass and your wonder-kid decides to become a distraction or a deacon-in-training who also wants to preach? I was talking with a mother about this. She had come to a daily Mass with her two quite young ones. And one of the children was just beyond the mother’s capability to tolerate in a Mass setting. I listened as the mom said she went home and called her husband and cried.
She wanted... she needed Mass and quiet that morning and it wasn’t given to her.

All I could say to her was that somedays are gifts... holy, peaceful, God-speaking-in-your-ear days at Mass. And some days are your gifts to God. You are giving God the respect and recognition that kids will be kids -- and that you are giving them example. There is grace in example to children. Yes -- you parents gain graces from example -- even if you don’t get your private time with Jesus.

Hang in there dear hearts. I have said this many times here -- I promise you it is true. I pray for you. My wife and I pray for you. And in some way that we’ll never know till heaven - God honors our prayers as make-up for the prayers you are unable to do. Hang in there. I love you. Thanks for choosing parenthood. (And even though I said I’m not aging -- there may come a time that I won’t be able to pray. I will need your prayers then as perhaps you need ours now!)

Deacon Tom

Copyright 2009 Deacon Tom Fox