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“Our Mother-Son Meltdown on the Soccer Field”

First, I reasoned with my nine-year-old to calm him down. Then I yelled and threatened to punish him. Nothing stopped his emotional meltdown, until I tried a little empathy and a hug

I live in a pleasant community on a small military post. Our kids go to the same small school together, they are in the same after-school activities together, and they all play sports together.

Most of the time it’s an ideal situation. But that also means that when your child has a complete meltdown on the sideline of a soccer game, everyone watching knows exactly who you are and who your child is. Yes, your kid was that kid, the one who acted like a complete brat in public.

As we go into our fall soccer season, I remember an episode from last season. After chatting with another parent during the quarter break, I looked out at the field as play resumed. My son wasn’t on the field. I checked the bench, but he wasn’t there. He was behind the bench, sitting on the ground.

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I watched for a while trying to figure out what was going on. He was stomping his feet and clenching his fists. Not wanting to be that parent —the one who swept in and didn’t allow the coach to coach — I sat back for a minute deciding if I should intervene.

His body language continued to worsen, so I walked over to see if I could defuse the situation. I got down on the ground and spoke to him on his level. The coach had benched him, and he was both angered and embarrassed. It’s certainly not the first time he’d ever been benched or corrected, but for some reason, that day it especially bothered him.

So instead of sitting on the bench like he was instructed, he chose instead to sit behind the bench, in full view of everyone, and throw a pity party. Knowing that a sharp rebuke would only make things worse for my very sensitive child, I attempted to discuss the situation with him.

I explained the importance of respecting his coach and listening to what he says. I explained that his location behind the bench placed him dangerously close to the other soccer game going on right behind us. I didn’t get through.

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It dawned on me that the two of us sitting on the sideline was probably making a scene, so I explained that everyone could see him and perhaps he should stand up and return to the game. He did stand up, tears in his eyes, but he refused to return to the game.

At this point, my patience was running thin. I’d tried reasoning with my son, but he was in full meltdown mode. I was at my wits’ end, so I switched tactics.

“Return to the game, or I will take you to the car and you won’t play in the next game,” I said.

“No,” he replied.

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It was becoming more apparent to me that we had an audience. Members of our Cub Scout pack, my son’s classmates, and a few of my husband’s superiors could see that my son was throwing a fit. I was not going to deal with this, not here.

“Get on the bench or I will drag you to the car if I have to,” I said.

“You’re not strong enough,” he said. Ouch.

I am a petite woman, and he is growing taller every day, but I was shocked that my son, my sweet son who is usually so respectful, would say such a hurtful thing to me. This was not my son. He will occasionally give me some attitude like most kids his age, but he had never said something like that to me before. I felt insulted and angry. My initial reaction was to truly drag him to the car and forget soccer, forever.

But as I looked down at my son’s watery eyes, I knew that he was in the the grip of a storm of emotions he was unable to control. He was embarrassed, angry, and ashamed. No amount of talking was going to calm him down. I thought of an ADHD-related article a friend had shared on social media right before the game and I reminded myself that children with ADHD often have a hard time handling their emotions.

My son was the one who mattered, not everyone watching.

So I shelved my anger. I didn’t drag him to the car or ground him for the week. Punishment was not my goal. I wanted him to work through these emotions and come out on the other side ready to return to the game he had committed to playing.

I wrapped my arms around him. I told him to take a deep breath and that he would be OK. After a few moments of hugs and breaths, he calmed down. He agreed to return to the game, and I started walking back to the bleachers.

A few moments later, I was nearly knocked over as my son ran up and wrapped my waist in a tight hug.

“Thanks for helping me, Mom,” he said before returning to the bench. He apologized to the coach for his behavior and was allowed to play in the final quarter of the game.

It’s easy to get caught up in what other people think, or even what we believe other people think. When I returned to the bleachers, no one chastised me for my son’s behavior, and if anyone had been paying attention to our little exchange, they certainly didn’t tell me.

As I’ve progressed in my parenting journey, I’ve learned that no one has a child who behaves wonderfully all the time. Some children are laid back. Some are sensitive. Some are more strong-willed than others. Parent them in the way that they need to be parented, not in the way that you think others would want to see.

If you do find yourself in that moment where your child is having a meltdown in front of what seems like everyone, know you’re not alone.

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