Oh no! Somebody took the last pink scarf or the last little panda bear! Somebody is standing on my spot! Somebody bumped into me! These are things that can lead to a major meltdown for a preschool ballet student!

The other day I was teaching a class and it seemed that everyone wanted what they couldn’t have and the crying was inevitable. After the class was over the parents all commended me on how patient I was with the children. I was happy they thought I handled it well but I was thinking in my head, “Well, what other choice did I have but to be patient and calm?” If I became frustrated or upset it would have only made matters worse. I knew I had to solve any unhappiness as quickly as possible and keep my class moving in a positive direction.

When you have a child that becomes upset in class so much that they start to cry you have to think fast. How can you help the child feel better and not let them take over the class?

I am going to tell you a story of a mistake I made when dealing with a student early in my career. It is hard for me to admit this, but it may help you when you come across a similar situation.

Years ago I was teaching a preschool theater class and I had a student who wanted the entire class to do what he wanted all the time. Every week one of the students would upset him and he would make the student apologize to him even if they hadn’t done anything wrong. I had never come across this before. I had to constantly remind this student to share and let the other children have ideas in class.

The final class of the session, which was also our performance for the parents, I had had enough. I even went out of my way to make sure that he would not get upset that day by thinking of everything that might possibly make him upset and trying to avoid it. Well, he found something to get upset about anyway and I was determined not to let him have his way. I remained calm but firm with this student.  He needed to learn that he couldn’t have everything he wanted, right?

Needless to say that was a big mistake. He then became so upset that he wouldn’t perform in the show and we were left without a Peter Pan! I should have swallowed my pride and compromised with him for one last time so we could’ve had a great show. This was a mistake I had to learn the hard way.

So what do you do when you have a child that has a meltdown in your class? As the adult you may feel you need to teach this young person a lesson. We don’t want to give in to a child. They do need to learn that they can’t have everything they want, but you do need to teach your class and move on as quickly as possible. This is what I now do when I am in this situation:

First, think fast but also take a deep breath. Try your best not to become frustrated or stubborn like I was. We, as preschool ballet teachers, do have the responsibility to teach not only ballet to our students but also teach them how to behave in a class and with other friends. They do need to learn to be calm, take turns and share. However you certainly cannot force them to learn something in the short time you have with them in one class. You can guide your students and hope they catch on. If not, try your best to keep your class moving.

Next, I have the child try to use their words. What is it that they want? For example, maybe you are playing with little stuffed animals and someone took the last elephant and they wanted an elephant too. In this situation I go down to their level and ask calmly, “Please use your words to tell me what you want so I can help you.” Try this a couple of times to calm them down. If they do calm down and tell you they wanted the elephant say, “Hmm, Well I don’t have any more elephants but this little lion really wants to play with you!” Simple doing this may fix the situation and you can move on with your game. You have to make sure that you are nice but very matter-of-fact when you tell them what they want is not available. If they realize the choice is not there anymore that is usually enough to change their attitude.

If they are still upset ask if any student that has an elephant would like to trade. Many times other students are willing to give up their prop to make someone else happy. Problem solved.

If the other students are not willing to give up their prop then I simply have to be real with the child and say, this is what I have left. There are many other great friends here (stuffed animals) that would really like to play with you. Please choose one. Maybe next time you can have the elephant. Make sure you make a mental note to let this child have the elephant the next class! You don’t want a repeat of the situation.

You could also try to give the student an important job. If you are going to bounce the animals on the parachute, let the child that is upset throw their animal on first. Or they get to count to three and then everyone can throw their animal on. Maybe they can be the leader in a game of follow the leader.

Distractions help in many other situations. If a child bumped themselves or is missing mom bring out the parachute. There is nothing better than a parachute! Any fun prop or story you can tell the students should help distract a student who is upset.

Always keep in mind preschoolers are still learning how to treat people and share. (Older people still need to learn this as well). They really don’t understand they can’t always have their way. Sometimes there could be changes going on at home like a new little brother or sister or moving to a new home which could be the reason why they are emotional. They could also just be tired. Preschoolers sometimes give up their naps around age 3-4 and that could lead to many fun emotions! Finally, some students just feel emotions bigger than others. One child may be able to brush off a situation easily while another may have a more difficult time. That is just their temperament.

Meltdowns will happen in your class from time to time. The quicker you can calm your students and focus them on something fun the quicker you can all have a great time!