Our 4-year old has unfortunately started having meltdowns a couple of days a week before bed. It's really sad because she'll often put together a great day, just to cause a house-wide problem near the finish. These happen in a fairly predictable but hard to prevent pattern:
- 6-7 PM "Meh" eating: Doesn't eat a ton during dinner, but does eat something (usually a handful of rice but only a bit of protein like chicken, ham/bacon, etc.)
- 8 PM Delayed Routine (~20 minutes): Bedtime starts just a bit later than usual, either due to dinner dragging on (see: "Meh" eating) and/or her toddler brother having a bath while she does something fun.
- Lack of Focus: The classic sign is that she'll start zoning out (not as responsive) or has trouble stopping tasks.
- 8 PM - 8:30 PM Meltdown: Pretty much regardless of how gently she's nudged toward the bedtime routine steps, she will then hit a meltdown. These sometimes start a bit verbal, but usually pretty quickly go down to a complete breakdown of whining/crying/being mean to stuffed animals/lightly slapping at people/running away. She basically can't say what the issue is, though sometimes her mood still shifts a bit based on how we interact with her.
- 8:30 PM Feeding: At some point, the meltdown subsides enough that we can get her to eat a bit. If she doesn't eat, she still starts having issues. After she eats more, she usually levels out.
- 9 PM: Sleep. She'll finally level off and be okay, at which point she's verbal and says things like "I was mad. How are you feeling? Were we both mad?" She's usually no longer upset.
So the question then is, has anyone had these and do they know good strategies to solve them? Having checked some websites, they range from "I've tried this" to "Stop your useless BS about feeding my kids beets for dinner to prevent meltdowns." The most effective methods we've done so far are:
- After dinner snack: If we can, re-visit dinner during the small delay period before bed time and get more food in. When this works, it's great. But sometimes she's just not hungry (e.g., ate food, but it's just rice and quickly burning off) or she's had so little she's already starting a meltdown.
- Calm down basket: Sometimes we can head off the meltdown with something super interesting (e.g., squishy things), and then get food back in the game. This isn't always feasible, and needs to be reserved for critical times, otherwise she can start whining about not getting the calm down basket when she'd otherwise okay (i.e., it's too rewarding to use much).
Does anybody have other tricks that they use which can either prevent or recover from these? They can get pretty rough. I'd be interested in any angle of improvement:
- Calming Down: At the point where a kid is non-verbal, crying and alternating between running away to knock down stuffed animals and charging back to whap at you, anybody know good strategies for a 4 year old to calm back down? Infrequently she remembers to try some breathing stuff (thanks, Daniel Tiger) but a larger bag of tricks would be great.
- Defuse Before Meltdown: At the point where she starts looking glassy-eyed or otherwise likely to meltdown while focused on a task, anybody know good ways to move that to food or something else useful?
- Eating: Finally, anybody have good thoughts on how to handle when the only thing they'll eat is quick-burning? I think we're basically getting a meal-sized sugar crash during some of these, where a non-trivial amount was eaten (enough to be moderately full) but burns off for a crash prior to bed time.
Or any other suggestions are great, in general.