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Principal's Blog

2016 TERM 3

Meltdowns and Losing the Plot (formerly known as a tantrums)

My mother, Faye, reflected that two new terms have entered the parenting lexicon since she was a mother: meltdowns and losing the plot. This reflection, given after I had told her that I had sent one of my children to bed for ‘losing the plot’ made me reflect on parenting, my childhood and my mother’s approach.

My mother’s initial comment that ‘her children rarely, if ever lost the plot’ was followed up a few weeks later, when I revisited this comment, by ‘We were all busy running a school in our home, and so losing the plot was simply not an option.’

This statement is worth unpacking – as I feel that it gets to the heart of the matter. Poor behaviour was received with such disapproval that we all did out best to behave well.

How was it so apparently easy for my mother to raise seven children and to have consistently avoided this now fairly common occurrence?

Well, we really did try to avoid letting her, and ourselves, down. We felt clearly that she expected a standard of behaviour and that we were capable such. Her disapproving look for poor behaviour also conveyed a positive message, in that she clearly viewed us as capable of self-discipline. This is a self-affirming, empowering message, and I now see, entirely self-fulfilling. And simply that no matter how many excuses one has – tired, stressed, worried, hungry or frustrated – there is never a time when losing the plot or having a meltdown is the right response.

My mother believed that we, her children, could control our state of mind and our responses; and so we did. This is not to say that we did not feel tired, hungry, upset or sad – all children experience all of these – but that a meltdown was never the appropriate (or acceptable) response to these.

My mother reflected on another thing, that given her work load (running a school, raising seven children, starting a publishing business) she was simply too busy to allow meltdowns to be part of her life. Keeping the family, school and business running took a serious amount of energy, and simply disallowed the possibility of indulging her children in meltdowns. This points to meltdowns being a phenomenon tied to parenting style. Disallowing meltdowns (as a parenting decision) leads to their not occurring.

Reflecting on this over the last few months, my approach has changed. I too now believe that a meltdown is not an appropriate response to any situation. Interestingly, in making this decision, rationally and clear-headedly, it does not feel like a big challenge to see it through, and my children’s behaviour has already moved. While I have not stated a new position to my children, they have felt a change, and things have moved forward. While we were never a family where meltdowns were common, we have moved closer to the no-meltdown situation that I was raised in.

I should add that what I write applies to children of school age; that with younger children, while this expectation can be set, it may take a little while for the child to adopt this standard of behaviour.

Timothy Berryman (Principal)

Post Script

All of this meshes with my experience of the world that larger families rarely have children who consider meltdowns part of their behavioural repertoire.

So, am I advocating families of at least four children and busy professional lives for both parents? That produces almost by necessity a no-meltdown approach to parenting, but I believe that perhaps an easier option is simply deciding that meltdowns and losing the plot, irrespective of the situation, are things that we will no longer tolerate in our families. That being tired or hungry or… is not an excuse that validates a meltdown. That as parents, we can all, much like my mother, choose to either allow or disallow meltdowns.


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