It's 6 pm and a boy is crying inconsolably. Nothing I say changes anything, so I tell him I'm going to give him a hug and will talk to him when he's cooled down a little.
After he gained some control over his emotions, he told me that another child had touched the structure he had made. This had made him very upset. Very upset...
I took him apart and told the boy that it was OK to feel sad, and that I thought this excessive sadness was caused by him being tired. He replied that he was not tired at all! I chose to ignore this remark and not make this conversation into a dispute with a child that just suffered a meltdown.
Instead, I told him a little about myself. I said that I sometimes feel tired as well, and that when I feel that way, I find it difficult to deal with other people and can get annoyed more quickly. And that it is OK to feel tired, but that we need to learn to recognise this feeling.
Not long after, his mum came to pick him up. I told her that her son had had a meltdown and how I handled the situation. She was amazed by the tip to give words to her son's feelings, especially after he is having a meltdown.
Now, the trick is to teach children to recognise their feelings before they suffer a meltdown. This mother has taken my advice to talk about emotions and feelings to heart, as I would see two days later.
The boy walks in after being picked up from school, and my colleague says that he has said he feels tired and wants to be on his own for a bit. He is on the sofa in the quiet hallway and is looking at pictures in a book. He sees me walking around and asks if I can read him a story. Of course I can, and so we sit together and read about the adventures of another little boy.
When his mum comes and picks him up later that day, I tell her how her son came in that day. She was beyond herself with joy that in two days her son seemed to have learned to give words to his feelings, before they become a meltdown.
Of course, this is not a process that can be learned and mastered in two days, but it shows that children can learn to recognise their feelings and how to best respond to those with our help. Let's always ensure them of our support by sticking around and being there for them when they are ready to talk, so that they won't feel rejected. Because, let's be honest, even us adults can sometimes find it hard to react in a well-balanced manner!