M is for Meltdown!

Hunger, tiredness, being overwhelmed, sensory overload, not getting their way are all ingredients in the recipe for a meltdown.  You know what that is…we’ve all experienced it.  Crying (sobbing actually), falling to the floor, refusal to comply, screaming, thrashing with maybe a side of aggression.  What to do?


I heard a speaker once talk about the “three r’s” of behavior.  Rumbling.  Rage.  Recovery.  There is so much truth in those three words.

Rumbling – the beginning of it all.  You can sense it coming.  Maybe there is some grumpiness or agitation.  Maybe withdrawal or out-of-the-blue non- compliance.  As I have written in my previous two posts “B is for Behavior” and “C is for Compliance”, its best to quickly assess the situation and attempt a quick remedy.  Maybe a snack, a removal from the situation, deep pressure, movement, a distraction….whatever works.  What doesn’t work, typically, is attention, bargaining, begging or anger from the adult.

Rage – Sometimes, your efforts to sideline the tantrum will not work.  Then, the best thing to do is hunker down and ride out the rage.  Keep your child safe.  Remove others from the area if possible.  Do not try to move a raging child.  And most importantly, remove your emotions from the situation.  Do not try to talk to the child or comfort or calm.  Jed Baker has a fantastic book called No More Meltdowns.  I recommend it to any parent who has a child will raging behavior.  Dr. Baker spends a majority of the book emphasizing to us parents and teachers….the adults in the situation….the importance of remaining calm and emotionally disengaged from a tantrumming child.  That means a quiet, flat voice.  A neutral face.  An “I’m not being affected by this” posture.  And, keeping a safe distance…one that allows you to keep your eye on the child to assure their safely, but one that is uninvolved.  Then….Wait.  It.  Out.

A child who is raging is not reasonable.  Their brains are consumed with anger and their sensory systems are overwhelmed.  There is absolutely no need to talk, give ultimatums, threaten consequences, punish or even soothe.  You just have to wait until it is over.  By excising your involvement, you will shorten the length and quite possibly the level of the tantrum.

Recovery – It will end.  No child has ever tantrummed forever.  And not until it is over is it time to talk, comfort and soothe.  It doesn’t feel good to be out of control and most likely your child will be exhausted, embarrassed and remorseful.  When they are calmer and responsive,  offer sensory and emotional support.  Then, talk about what happened and how to make it better next time.  If appropriate,  (not always….it depends on the situation) impose a consequence.  (“Your tantrum made us late and we have missed the movie”, “When you were angry, you broke my vase.  You will need to replace it”, “I don’t think it is a good idea for you to go to your friend’s house today, you seem to be having a hard time”.  “You must be very tired.  It would be a good idea for you to take a nap/go to bed early tonight”).  The goal of recovery is to let your child know he is loved, to openly talk about what happened and why, and develop a plan to make a similar future scenario more successful.

Its hard work, folks, this business of being the adult.  Hang in there.  Try, try and try again.  You are not alone.

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