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Handling Meltdowns (Managing behaviour series)

Welcome back to our five-part series on managing behaviour. In this second part, we'll delve into a topic that often leaves parents feeling helpless: handling their child's meltdowns or tantrums. We'll answer two crucial questions: how to prevent meltdowns from spiralling out of control and how to teach your child emotional management. Let's break it down into five main steps and discuss how to adapt these strategies for children with ADHD or autism.





Your Calm Response:

Meltdowns can be incredibly stressful, especially in public. It's tough to know what to do on the spot. That's why having a planned response is crucial. Stay as calm as possible, even though the behaviour may be frustrating. Remember, young kids can't regulate their emotions independently. Your calm demeanour sets the emotional bar for them. So, if you're stressed, they're likely to remain agitated. Sometimes, it's okay to let them have their meltdown while you take a few deep breaths to stay composed.


Validate Your Child's Feelings:

Active listening is a powerful tool. Acknowledge your child's feelings by reflecting them back. For instance, if they seem sad, say, "I can see you're really sad." Validating their emotions lets them know it's okay to feel that way. Just as you appreciate empathy from your partner when you're upset, children crave the same validation.


Offer a Break:

Rather than jumping into problem-solving mode, give your child time to calm down. Highly emotional kids struggle with problem-solving when they're upset. Let them know it's okay to take a break. You've already calmed yourself and validated their feelings, so you're setting the stage for them to regain control. It may take more than a minute, but it's essential to let them know you can be patient and supportive.


Provide Choices:

Once your child has calmed down a bit, consider offering choices. Simplify decisions for them to reduce the cognitive load. Instead of asking, "What do you want?" offer options like, "Do you want this or that?" It streamlines the decision-making process and minimises frustration. Also, check in to ensure you've understood their choice correctly.


Problem Solve Later:

Meltdown moments are not the best times for problem-solving or teaching emotional regulation skills. Emotional kids struggle to think rationally during meltdowns, and discussing issues can escalate the situation. Instead, address the problems when everyone is calm, ideally at a later time or even the next day. Teaching these skills outside of meltdown situations is more effective.


Adapting for ADHD and Autism:

Now, let's discuss how to adapt these strategies for children with ADHD or autism.


Recognize Triggers:

Keep an eye out for patterns and triggers specific to your child. It could be sensory sensitivities, social overwhelm, routine changes, or frustration. Understanding these triggers allows you to either avoid triggering situations or prepare for them.


Visual Supports:

Visual information is vital for children with ADHD and autism. Create visual aids to help them communicate and understand their emotions. Use pictures to represent feelings, taking a break, or deep breathing. Visual cues provide clarity during emotional moments.


Sensory Support:

If your child has sensory sensitivities, be prepared with sensory supports like headphones, weighted blankets, or firm hugs. These tools can help them calm down during meltdowns.


Extra Time and Space:

Children with ADHD, autism, or anxiety may need more time and space to calm down. Be patient and stay with them, but also allow them the space they need to self-regulate. Sometimes, they need to be alone temporarily before you re-engage with them.


Remember, these strategies can benefit all children, not just those with specific diagnoses. Every child is unique, so adapt these techniques to suit your child's needs.


In conclusion, managing meltdowns requires a calm, empathetic approach. By following these steps and adapting them as needed, you can help your child navigate their emotions and build valuable emotional regulation skills. And always remember, you're doing your best as a parent, and that's something to be proud of.

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