Minimizing a Meltdown :: Five Tips From an EIRMC Professional

We have partnered with Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center to bring our readers these great tips!

Motherhood is hard. There is no sugarcoating that. While most of the experiences of raising a cute little kiddo are incredibly rewarding, there is no denying that it is difficult. One second, you have a sweet, patient, loving child and then the next, BOOM! Crazy tantrum. Maybe you tried to feed him the same food he has always loved or maybe her shoes are blue instead of green. We don’t always know what causes a meltdown and we certainly don’t always think it’s rational, but Marti Brooks, Occupational Therapist at EIRMC, shared some simple tips that can help you identify triggers and deescalate meltdowns in a healthy way for you AND your child!  EIRMC has a wonderful practice located behind the main EIRMC building. Their specialists are passionate about helping children. You may contact EIRMC’s Pediatric Therapy office at (208) 529-7982.

Tip #1 Stay calm

While the first tip is simple, it’s the one I think we often struggle with the most. When your child starts to melt down, it is important that you CALM DOWN! Take a deep breath and remember that you can only control your own feelings and that you set the tone for what happens next. Lower your voice and breathe to lower your heart rate before moving forward. This can be a REALLY difficult step for many of us, myself included, but it makes a tremendous difference in calming your child.

Tip #2 Recognize escalation

For many children, a meltdown can start small and very quickly escalate into a full-blown loss of control. Depending on the age of your kid, you may be able to communicate important vocabulary that puts names and words to emotions. Knowing the difference between anger and frustration, for example, can drastically affect the steps necessary to deescalate a tough moment. It’s important to teach children the vocabulary to match their feelings from an early age. Self-awareness is an incredibly valuable tool.

Do your best to notice the signs leading up to a meltdown. Things like talking louder or faster or withdrawing can give you early indicators that your child is heading in a direction you do not wish to go. Once you begin to recognize the escalation patterns leading up to a meltdown, you may be able to take necessary steps to deescalate the meltdown before it peaks.

Tip #3 Be proactive in de-escalation

Marti shared some really valuable tips to help you calm your child before a meltdown grows out of control. What is perhaps most valuable, though, is that she shared many skills we can teach our children so they can help themselves in a crisis.

One step towards de-escalating a meltdown is being aware of what triggers your child. Maybe he generally has a meltdown at the grocery store or other public place or around certain people. Maybe she always throws a tantrum at a certain time of the day or during a certain activity such as mealtime or bedtime. These are really important patterns to become familiar with as knowing when you may expect a struggle can help you be better prepared to soothe your child leading up to it. By teaching your child coping skills before the fact, he or she can be prepared to handle whatever is triggering him or her. It is incredibly important to teach these skills during regular life rather than during a crisis. We are also responsible for teaching our kids when to use these skills, not just how. This may take a bit of trial and error, but remember that these are valuable life skills. A really helpful tip Marti shared to teach your child how to take nice, deep breaths is to allow him or her to blow bubbles! I never considered that as a calming activity and I can’t wait to use that tip the next time one of my kiddos needs to just CHILL!

Heavy work (proprioceptive work) can be very calming and organizing for the vestibular system which is responsible for providing our brain with information about motion, head position, and spatial orientation. The brain accepts heavy work as sensory input and can calm a meltdown. Adults often do heavy work in the form of exercise! As every child is different, Marti recommends customizing the work assigned based on the kid’s individual abilities and needs. For some children, free play involving heartrate-raising activities may be helpful while others may prefer structured activity during which they can get out energy while following directions. Some examples of heavy work include exercise, carrying laundry up and down stairs, or pushing trash cans to the curb. It can be something that is built-in to a regular routine and it is never harmful to do it even when it isn’t necessary.

Tip #4 Acknowledge the child’s feelings

As adults, we often aren’t equipped with the self-awareness necessary to adequately cope with certain feelings. It is important, however, that we validate our children’s feelings and then redirect them to a positive coping skill. While many phrases can be used, here are some great examples to make our child feel seen and heard:

“I can tell something is wrong”

“I’m here to help you figure out what’s going on”

“Is there something I can do to help you?”

“It does feel unfair when someone does that”

“It’s frustrating when we don’t get to do what we want”

While we don’t always understand what our child is feeling, it is important that he or she knows that we are open to discussing feelings and will be respectful of the validity of those feelings.

Tip #5 Set clear expectations and appropriate consequences

Wouldn’t life be so simple if we always had clear cut expectations and consequences? As parents, we have the ability to set up our children for success by doing just that. While sometimes difficult, clear expectations can be helpful to avoid stressful situations that can trigger a meltdown. Try to stay positive and be sure to follow through on appropriate consequences. A child learns very quickly when a parent makes empty threats, so be sure the consequences are reasonable and age-appropriate and that all caregivers agree to honor them. For example, don’t threaten to take your son’s tablet away for the weekend if that is the weekend you planned to binge-read a new series and need alone time. It isn’t reasonable and you’ll likely not follow-through. Use clear and direct language and ensure your child understands the expectation and the positive or negative consequence.

Meltdowns happen to the best of us. Even on the great days, many things can be triggering for our little ones. We have the ability to set the tone and teach our kids better ways to handle pressure and stress and I am excited to use some of these awesome tips with my own family and in my own adult life!

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GiGi is married to her favorite human in the whole world and together, they have five perfect little snack-obsessed kiddos 8 and under. They are a busy blended family and the kids run wild 50% of the time and have strict rules the other 50% because – balance. She has lived in the Idaho Falls area since 2011 and enjoys taking her kids to the park, the zoo, or playing Pokemon GO on the Greenbelt! GiGi loves to travel and experience different cultures and enjoys getting to know new people and hearing their stories. She needs to sleep 8 hours nightly and has to have alone time to recharge. It's important to know she’s addicted to the plant juice (essential oils), crystals, green tea, plants, and online shopping with fast shipping.