Meltdowns can be exhausting, not only for a child but also in the moment for their parent, carer or teacher.
Once the child has calmed, you can be left feeling drained and wondering if you responded in a helpful and positive manner.
It can be a challenge to know how best to react, which is why we plan to use this article to identify effective strategies for dealing with a child meltdown when they occur.
How to handle a child’s meltdown
The first element to keep in mind when dealing with a child that has meltdowns is not all episodes are the same.
You must be prepared for that.
When a child has doesn’t have an ability to regulate emotions, or has become overwhelmed, they may react by crying, refusing to get up, screaming, swearing, enacting physical violence on themselves or others, or running away.
A meltdown can last anywhere between a few minutes to hours at a time.
A second point to note is that meltdowns are not a manipulation tactic deployed by a child.
Unlike with a regular tantrum, the behaviour exhibited is not meant to force you into submission.
However, rather it is an uncontrollable emotional explosion.
The child is unable to process their feelings or thinking, and so cannot have any thoughts other than pain and upset at that moment.
Once a child meltdown starts, they will be unable to listen to you or follow any directions you are trying to give.
Using the following techniques can be helpful in managing a meltdown once it has begun:
- Be sure to give your child the space and time they need to regulate their emotions and recover from such an intense sensory overload.
- If possible, try to create a space that is safe and quiet, free from bright lights and overwhelmingly loud sounds. This can be difficult when in public, but removing them from an overloading space in which the meltdown began can be helpful.
- Above all, as a parent or carer, it is key that you stay as calm as possible throughout. Although it can be extremely stressful, particularly when in a public setting, it is important to remember that this moment is out of the child’s control.
Eventually, you will notice that the child begins to relax which indicates a meltdown is coming to an end.
The most effective way to approach them is with a calm and quiet voice, using as few words as possible and speaking slowly.
Often, after a meltdown, children struggle to process language and so remaining patient is essential.
Instead of telling them what to do, you should ask questions to reassure them everything is ok and that they have control again.
Questions such as: ‘Would you like something to drink?’ are positive and nurturing, adding a sense of comfort.
Always be sure that a meltdown is over, and that your child has calmed completely, before engaging with them because a premature action could restart an episode.
If possible, try not to draw attention to a meltdown, or any damaged caused, because that also risks exacerbating the situation.
That can be addressed later by clearing any mess with the child’s help, helping them understand actions have consequences.
Once a meltdown is over, and your child is ok, you may want to reflect on what happened in the build-up.
There may have been triggers that were a catalyst, and they should be noted for future reference.
It could be that excessive noise, hunger, exhaustion, a change to routine without guidance or warning or a task that took too long to complete that was the cause.
The observations you record here could be useful in avoiding a meltdown if you can intervene early.
It is important to remember that scolding is unlikely to stop a child meltdown from happening again, but gathering information and identifying triggers can prevent them.
How to stop a child meltdown
A child meltdown is often preceded by a ‘rumble stage’ during which children start to show signs of being distressed.
If you can recognise these behaviours, which indicate a meltdown is coming, there are tactics you can use to help.
Our Personalisable Now and Next Board can be used to help children who have problems with routines, or new situations, by allowing them take a moment to calm themselves, be still and potentially avoid a meltdown. The more you can be aware of ‘rumbling’ behaviour, the more you will be able to help prevent an episode from escalating.
Autistic children often experience a meltdown and, as a parent, carer or teacher, you can help by taking the time to understand how best to handle a situation.
It is important you appreciate with how hard these moments are for a child and to give them space, empathy, and support to assure them everything will be ok.
By anticipating a meltdown, identifying triggers, and reducing exposure to these situations, you can help children play a part in preventing them.
At OurBoards, we design and manufacture visual communication boards that help individuals to understand and manage their environment, thoughts, behaviours, and emotions.
By using our Personalisable Now and Next Board (also known as a Routine Board or a First and Then Board) parents, carers, teachers and professionals have all reported a significant reduction in child meltdowns.
If you would like to discover more about how our products can help, or have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our team by calling 0560 285 0560.
We are happy and ready to help you find the appropriate solution for your situation.