He had reached his point.
Sometime between the happy bath and having to get dressed for bed, his wall was hit. Breaking down in tears and whining “No’s” he refused to get dressed by snatching his pj’s from me and throwing them in the other direction.
He cried “No get dressed!” in-between giant tears and snotty sniffles. His breakdown escalated to flailing limbs, louder sobs and the inability to consciously listen. All our usual tactics and conversational snippets wouldn’t work to bring him down. In fact, they compounded the situation as they made him more frustrated.
What caused this? I have no idea. Something arose in his brain that didn’t sit well with him and I wasn’t able to figure out what. There was no talking him down; and I have always been able to do so. On the fifth attempt at getting him dressed and having him toss aside his pj’s I attempted a new strategy: I pulled him close and gave him a great big bear hug.
Sitting on the floor and squeezing him into my chest while rubbing his back I talked quietly next to his ear: “Shhhhhhhh. We’re going to calm down now. You are very, very upset and I can see that. Shhhhhhhh, buddy. Let’s settle down. It’s okay. It can be really difficult sometimes. Shhhhhhh. I have you.” Then something remarkable happened. He quieted down and the post sniffling calmed.
Still in my embrace I told him to take a deep breath. His little chest rose and fell. Two more deep breaths. “Do you feel better?” He shakes his head yes; no longer sniffling. “That’s good. I’m happy you feel better. Sometimes we get upset and we don’t know why, and that’s okay. Are you all better now?” “Ya, I feel better.” At this point he goes and picks up his pj’s and hands them to me. “Here you go daddy. I put these on.” Within a half an hour he’s deep asleep on my chest.
I don’t know what caused this emotional meltdown, but offering a loving, safe place for release and not punishing his backtalk or defiance made all the difference. I met his rough emotional state with empathy, validation and love. He went from level 10 meltdown to calm and cooperative within literally a couple minutes.