Stopping My Son’s Post-nap Melt Downs
The Problem (Melt Downs)
So, I have noticed something interesting lately with my son, Jackie. When I wake him up from a nap he seems to always be angry. The only time this is not the case is when he wakes on his own. But as parents know, if you allow your kids to sleep too long, they will skip right past bed time in the evening. Therefore, I must awaken the beast and face the consequences. Knowing that this is something I have to do, I being looking for ways to ease the pain. Once Jackie gets upset, he becomes a tornado of emotion for the next hour or more.
First, I realize that if I allow him to get too angry, its hard to stop the melt down. This is something I think remains true, even for adults. As you move toward an emotional extreme whether its anger, humility, happiness, gratitude, etc you build momentum. Because of this I started to realize I need to find a way to stop Jackie from building momentum in the direction of anger.
Going a little deeper, I realized that my time allotment before momentum builds up is ~30 seconds to 1 minute. So what can I do with the time before I wake him and the 30 seconds to 1 minute afterward in order to avoid this melt down?
In planning I knew that I had to find a way to redirect Jackie’s momentum. I know that he likes food, but often times when he wakes up he is not in the mood. I also know that he likes tickle fights…just not right after waking up. It was not until I remembered him taking my hand several times and pulling me to the door for “walks” outside then it hit me. Taking him on a walk was the perfect solution!
- Elevated heart rate so he will stay awake.
- Redirecting his energy toward the walks he enjoys, rather than anger due to waking.
- As much as he hates waking up, he loves walking outside so much more.
- Right away I knew the key to maximizing success would be to capitalize on the time before Jackie was awake. Before he wakes up I slip on his shoes to save myself around 30 seconds or so.
- I open the front door just to save myself a few more seconds.
- I might slide some shorts or a jacket on him if necessary.
- Wake Jackie up by simply picking him up, standing him on his feet, and saying lets go for a walk.\
He is a little confused, but he almost immediately responds to the idea of a walk. He hobbles right over the front door, I open the storm door, and he climbs down the steps. Then we go walking around the neighborhood hand in hand. This might go on for 20-30 minutes and it is a decent time commitment, but I get to kill two birds with one stone by spending time with Jackie and keeping him in a good mood. In reality, if he is having a melt down, I cannot focus on anything else anyway. This early investment pays dividends when I need to do chores.
Why It Works
When Jackie wakes before he is ready, he is pretty instantly upset or angry, as most of us would be. They key is to use his internal rewards system in order to change that anger to happiness or excitement.
Dopamine is a chemical used by your brain whenever you are doing something that brings you joy, happiness, excitement, pleasure, etc. It is your brains way of helping you to do pleasurable things and avoid unpleasant things by rewarding you only when you do something pleasurable. So the key is to find something that will cause a dopamine release in Jackie’s brain so that he is rewarded for waking up. If he is rewarded, his anger dissipates, and his mood quickly changes.
Most people should be able to easily replicate these results by causing a dopamine release in the brain of their child in a similar way. This could mean walks, food, playdoh, swimming, favorite tv show, etc. You just have to find the best way to reward your child for doing something they do not enjoy.
I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did! Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, or results below!