Dealing with a child in a meltdown can be so frustrating, challenging and tiring for everyone. It will come as no surprise that emotional outbursts such as tantrums and meltdowns are one of the most commons reason to attend my practice. Sometimes, parents are not entirely clear what is a “meltdown” hence, here are some of my thoughts and a free poster to help your child calm.
Tantrums versus a Meltdown
I know many child therapists distinguish between the two, but neither are diagnostic terms. In my opinion, a tantrum is milder, you or your child may be able to calm and they may have some control, in addition, the duration may be less. A meltdown is an extreme outburst, your child may be totally out of control rapidly. You might observe:
- Your child may go from 0-100 in seconds
- Your child continues to be upset when other children have moved on
- Your child takes a long time to calm
- They continue to cope with a situation in the same way as they did when they were younger and way past their developmental age?
Why does my Child experience them?
Anger like fear is a primary emotion. It is biologically based, hardwired and virtually autonomic. Children have less control over primary emotions. They are limbic creatures and are not born with self-control. They are learning to develop self-control and emotional regulation. Just as every child looks different, their response to different emotions will differ too. Some children may have additional underlying problems such as:
- Learning and Processing Issues
- Speech and Developmental Delay
- Low Mood
- Sensory Processing issues
Triggers for a Meltdown:
There may be many triggers for meltdowns, and some may be unique but in my experience, it might include:
- Giving them a limit, saying NO!
- Separation, a parent leaving or they might be leaving to go to school. Nightime separations
- Change, any change of routines, and or transitions
- Injustice, sibling issues, unfairness and losing in competitions
What to types of parenting to avoid during a Meltdown
1.Invalidating your child’s feelings
When your child is upset, it is a big and intense feeling to them. To you, it may be nothing, so watch your words you may unintentionally invalidate their feelings, besides it often leads to further escalation. You might say:
Don’t worry honey, it’s just…..you will feel better later……let’s just look at this……
2. Reacting back during a Meltdown
During a meltdown, your child has lost all reason. Their Amygdala will be in charge which is mindless. They say all kinds of awful things that they really don’t mean, such as:
I hate you, I hate myself, I want to die, I want daddy
Do you retaliate, how do you respond, more importantly, do you:
3. Struggle to manage your emotions
Within the English culture, anger is not seen as a positive emotion. Furthermore, when you were growing up, was anger or conflict managed or expressed?
- Were you allowed to express anger as a child, or did you have to be a good child all the time?
- Was one of your parents/siblings volatile, was the family organised on appeasing them?
- Emotions were never discussed but you could feel the “atmosphere” as a child
- Were there many rows but you didn’t see or experience anyone “making up“
Our parental models certainly come into play when we respond to our children. For example, if we were a ” good child” because anger was not allowed to be expressed, we may simply not understand why they are behaving in this way, hence, shout, be defensive or cry. Therefore, it may be important for you to seek support. Be kind to yourself, parenting is one of the most difficult jobs in the world and asking for support creates a space for change. Do contact me
Effective Parenting Strategies
If your child is hurting you or themselves, you quickly need to make it safe. You might have to remove them if you are out in a park or stop driving until they are calm. Following this, they need to have a clear and consistent limit. It is helpful to discuss a safety plan prior to an actual meltdown. It’s important to separate the behaviour from the child. Your child is not bad or unacceptable but the behaviour is. Sit down and start a series of review meetings. Decide on a plan of action for when the you-know-what hits the fan. Discuss a safe place to go or calming techniques. Remember it’s going to take time, hence, it will not change overnight.
2. Validate their emotions
Validation comes in many forms, not just words
- Using your presence, Sitting calmly and just listening
- Telling them you understand
- Using language such as my Facebook post below
3. Make a list of Calm Down activities together
Here are some ideas and a free Poster for your child too:
1. Always teach your children words for emotions. The more they can talk it out the less they will “behave it out”.
2. Make a self soothe box
3. Find a safe and calm place within your home, try not to use it as a punishment but a solution.
4. Problem-solve with them. Find a big piece of paper and brainstorm solutions on what might help them to feel calm, there are further ideas on my >> Free Poster for your child>>
5. Help your child develop self-talk. Everyone suffers from negative thoughts, your child does too. Here are some ideas below:
6. Use Reinforcers for Positive and appropriate behaviour
Many parents get into a negative cycle, and so spending time with your child can feel a struggle. Give them positive and special time. Notice and say when they are managing to be calm.
7. Always reconnect following a meltdown
This is hard one but always try to reconnect with your child following the meltdown. Hug, kiss and forgive.
When to seek help
All children have times when they feel and express emotions intensely. Therefore, as a professional, I assess the intensity, duration, stage of development and consistency. You may want to seek help when you observe she or he:
- Constantly responds to events in an extreme way
- Reaches a high level of intensity of emotion quickly
- Takes a long time to calm after an upsetting incident
- Behavior is regularly impacting on home and or school
- Harming themselves or you on a regular basis
- Has trouble working out causes, responses, and the effect of the behaviour
If you need support do get in contact and I am also running a Positive Parenting for Toddlers Workshop In November, to help you strengthen your positive discipline skills.
Furthermore, remember to say I love you no whatever you do or say forever. When your child knows that they are loved unconditionally no matter what, the connection and attachment between you will be secure for life and everything is much easier. With Love Always Catherine