Aha Moments: I Learned a Lot From My Son’s Public Meltdowns

My son's meltdown at story time was a sure sign he needed a social life.

My son's meltdown during story time was a sure sign he needed some structure in his life.

I recently saw a little boy have a public meltdown, and his parents looked mortified.

It’s a tough “aha” moment when you realize your child might be lacking a little in the social skills department, but it’s also the first step to doing something about it.

My first “aha” moment with my son came a couple years ago at the library in Yulee.

He was just 2 at the time, and I kept him home with me all day, every day. We’d just moved here, so we didn’t know too many other moms or kids yet, and I thought Time for Tots would be the perfect way to make some new friends.

Unfortunately, we weren’t all that good at making friends that day.

The story lady had placed a plush blanket on the floor, and most of the children settled right down to listen. My son, on the other hand, had no interest whatsoever in that blanket or the story for that matter. I tried to hold him, tried sitting him in his stroller, tried even to sit on the blanket with him, but he would scream and fling his body around until I put him down.

That was stage one. Once he knew I wasn’t strong enough to force him to sit on the blanket, he made a run for it. First, a chubby hand squished a cupcake on the snack table. Then he darted into a supply closet to loudly smack the metal tables and chairs inside. I would catch up to him only to see him dart the other way, and so we did laps between the table and closet — behind the librarian and in full view of the other parents, mind you — at least 8 or 9 times.

Needless to say, I didn’t dare to show my face at Time for Tots for a very long while after that. The next time I took my tyrant to anything was a story time during the Polar Express holiday event at the Amelia Island Museum of History. My husband was with us, so the little guy didn’t dare act as naughty. He still wasn’t going to cooperate, though, so he just shut himself down and laid on the floor in the middle of the room.

Sometimes a new friend -- like this boy who helped my son face his first soccer game -- can make all the difference.

Sometimes a new friend -- like this boy who helped my son face his first soccer game -- can make all the difference. (And, yes, I realize it didn't help that the T-shirt they gave him fit like a dress!)

It seems like kids have a knack for knowing when to act up — at those times when we’re in front of a bunch of other people, trying to be polite, and perhaps trying to compare how our children act versus others their age. I realized my little guy had a long way to go before he’d be sitting still at story time, and I finally resigned to do something about it. I had to get him out there more and help him work out those social kinks.

Now, I’m not saying there’s one answer for all parents and kids, but for us, the best decision was for him to start going to a family day care a couple times a week. He needed to learn how to act with other kids, and how to act around other adults.

The first time I dropped him off, he was horrified, sobbing and red as a beet. I only let him go for two hours a day in those early days, though, and once he knew he could rely on me to come back, he started to relax a little. Now he loves the place, counts on the routine and adores his close knit group of friends.

We also got him involved in sports like the YMCA’s Mini Soccer program. When it was time to start his first game, he bawled on the sidelines. I was about to intervene, but then another boy threw an arm around his shoulders and guided him onto the gym floor. All it took was some friends and some time, and he loved it.

He’s 4 years old now, and some maturity comes with age of course, but the boy is a different kid. He’s confident, he’s polite, and he actually listens during story time. The boy who once was too uncomfortable to use the playground if there were other kids in sight is now the one who seeks out a “best friend” every time we visit the park. And these days, he’s the one who throws an arm around the kid who’s still trying to figure things out.

No one ever said parenting was easy, and certainly we’ll all have tons of aha moments where we have to help our kids get on track. The important thing is that we recognize those moments and make the choice to do something about them.

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