Surviving an Adolescent Meltdown
Rules of engagement for when your child loses control
by Sally Schrock
I almost slapped him. I was so close it frightened me. My firstborn son — just a few short years ago the delight of my life — stood in the hallway, red-faced, fists clenched, screaming at me. He insisted his bedroom was clean, but I informed him he was not finished.
"That is so not fair!" he raged. "You never think what I do is good enough!"
He continued to shout while I contemplated the soda cans, the dirty dishes, the clothes scattered all over the floor. I stated emphatically, "The condition of this room is not acceptable."
I watched in horror as my 12-year-old lost control. Tears spilled out of his beautiful blue eyes over his distraught face. "You don't know how hard I try," he ranted. "You are asking too much of me!"
His frenzy had intensified to the point that I fully expected his next sentence to be: "Mom, I know you think the sky is blue, but it's green. I know it's green!"
I instinctively raised my hand and said, "Do not say one more word." He opened and closed his mouth. He thought about it for a few seconds then walked into his room and slammed the door. I collapsed into a chair and cried.
This was my first experience with an adolescent meltdown. It was not the last. How was I going to teach him to control himself? With that in mind, I slowly developed some rules of engagement.
Recognizing the tremors
When I knew a meltdown was imminent, the first thing I did was stop talking. Then I required my son to stop talking also. Once it was quiet, I tried to determine whether this was an old issue or a new battlefield.
When it was an old argument wearing a new shirt, I spoke to my son calmly and without emotion: "We have discussed this, and we will not revisit this issue. Not now, perhaps not ever, but certainly not while you are in this frame of mind. So you have two choices. You can stop talking and do what I told you to do, or you can go to your room and stay there until you have a change of attitude."
When it was a new problem, I refused to give him an audience until he became calm and rational and could give me three concise sentences as to what was really bothering him. If emotions started to escalate, I stopped the discussion until we were both composed.
After he stated his concerns, I took a time-out to consider what he had said. Though it was difficult to establish this intentional break in conversation, my husband needed to be included in the discussion. We had to be sure of our position.
Once my words had become our words, I related our conversation to my son in a few concise sentences. Whenever I stooped to lecturing, my son mentally argued with me — I could see it in his eyes! I had to refrain from talking too much to prove my point.
Another hard part was determining appropriate discipline without going overboard. We had to make the correction fit the infraction in order to develop character yet not destroy his spirit. Part of his discipline included writing a synopsis of our discussion, even if he disagreed with the results. I read it over to make sure it was accurate. I then filed the paper for future reference, which came in handy on several occasions.
Calming the outbursts
If we played by the rules, it took a lot of time and effort, but we eventually resolved the conflict. As my son matured, he learned to talk about his frustrations before his resentment built to an exploding point. The outbursts became fewer and farther between — then nonexistent.
Today he is a disciplined, loving husband and father of six lively children who occasionally scream at him, "Dad, the sky is green! I know it's green!"
This article first appeared in the February/March, 2009 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2009 Sally Schrock. All rights reserved.
I am posting this to my blog so I can easily find it again when I need it.