From Toddler Tantrums to Teenage Meltdowns: What to Do

You might be amid the terrible twos or managing the meltdowns of a thirteen-year-old- either way, it’s a lot of the same: crying, kicking, screaming, slamming doors, storming out of the house, and screaming, “I don’t want to!”

A topic trending on SocialMama is how to handle toddler tantrums and teenage meltdowns.

You asked, and we’re answering!

Today, Lisa Sugarman, parenting guru, mother of two, author, and a nationally syndicated humor columnist, is here to answer your top questions on how to parent through a breakdown.

If you have questions about how to be nimble and let your kids find their own path and make their own mistakes and learn to rise for themselves, she’s the person you want to ask!

Let’s jump in!

Welcome, Lisa! Over at Social Mama, we’ve seen a variation of the same question on the app.

It goes a little something like this:

“My child keeps hitting me. I tell him to stop, and he gets mad. What can I do to help him cope AND avoid getting frustrated alongside him?”

“My two-year-old isn’t listening and getting into things she shouldn’t. I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried timeouts, but nothing works.”

“My teenager is so disrespectful. I thought I raised her well, but maybe I didn’t?”

Parents are feeling out of their depth and a little out-of-control themselves. What tips can you share with those of us struggling to parent well?

Lisa: Hey, friends! Excited to be back to offer a little support when your toddlers are flipping a nutty. First of all, remember, we’re living in some crazy times, so it’s no wonder we’re all feeling a little out of sorts (or maybe a lot out of sorts). Between Covid and politics and being in quarantine, we’re living through some pretty extreme circumstances that have created a thick layer of stress on all the normal stress we navigate on any normal day. So my top tip for how to stay sane during all the chaos is just to give yourself permission to not be ok. Too often, even in extreme situations, we think we’ve failed if something falls through the cracks or if we meltdown or if our kids are losing their minds. So stop. Just stop and let that &@^# go. Accept that things are going to go sideways and just do your best to stay calm in those moments, because that calmness will help you stay grounded and able to make good decisions even when things feel out of control. Next, quit comparing yourself to the other parents around you because it’s toxic. They’re not you and you’re not them and every family unit is so, so different, and what may work under one roof won’t work under another. Lastly, make sure you carve out some time just for YOU. And while I know that may seem impossible when everyone’s crammed in the same space 24 hours/day, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. Maybe set your alarm for an hour before it normally goes off and steal a quiet hour just for you before the rest of the house wakes up. Or find an hour on the back end of your day after everyone is asleep. Or, ask your partner to pinch hit for an hour so you can lock yourself away in the bedroom and recharge. Because if your tank isn’t full, eventually you’re gonna run out of gas.


How can parents avoid having their OWN emotional meltdown?

Lisa: Feels like everyone is melting down these days, so if you are, you’re definitely not alone. This last year has been insane on SO many levels, and we’re all only human, so it’s natural that the stress gets to us once in a while. That’s why you need to cut yourself some slack when you feel like you’re hitting your breaking point. Life is challenging right now, so don’t beat yourself up if the heaviness feels extra heavy sometimes.

The first thing you can try when you’re feeling a meltdown coming on is just to breathe. I know it sounds almost too simple, but even just a few minutes of being able to connect with our own breath can have a real calming effect when we’re starting to get wound up. And if that doesn’t do the trick, then try giving YOURSELF a time out. We do it all the time with our kids when they’re out of control and it can be just as beneficial to us to remove ourselves from a stressful situation and take a hot second to calm down in another space. And lastly, if separating yourself isn’t helping you to recalibrate, grab a journal or a notebook or a napkin and start writing. Attach some words to the feelings you're feeling and unload them on paper. It’s like bleeding a radiator, because it gets everything that’s bottled up out of your system and gives you something to reflect on when you’re done.

Final question: Do you think it’s healthy for parents to make mistakes in front of their kids? How can they recover together if they do make a mistake?

Lisa: As parents, it’s up to us to model ALL the behaviors for our kids--the good ones, the bad ones, and all the behaviors in between. Because from day one our kids are watching us. They’re watching everything we do, listening to everything we say, and paying attention to how we handle life. And because nothing and no one is perfect, our kids need to see that their parents are human and we make mistakes too and how we handle it when things go sideways. Because that’s life. Think about it, if we raise our kids to believe that it’s bad or wrong or unacceptable to make mistakes, then we’re setting them up to be ill-equipped for failure when it happens. But when we screw up or make a mistake and we own it and learn from it and avoid repeating it, we’re teaching our kids resilience. And that’s one of the most important life skills we can teach our kids. So when someone makes a mistake, whether it’s you or your kids, talk about it, figure out what went wrong, and come up with a plan to learn from it going forward.

About the contributors:


Lisa Sugarman is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of three books about parenting today’s GenZ kids in a perfectly imperfect world. Lisa is also a SocialMama expert and you can find her on the app anytime!



Morgan Michalowski, CNM, WHNP-BC, IBCLC, is a Nurse Midwife, Lactation Consultant, and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. Morgan is also a SocialMama expert and you can find her on the app anytime!

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