If you are a parent, chances are you've had your share of experiencing meltdowns from your child. Typically, behavioral meltdowns are more common from toddler to preschool age since young children are still learning how to self-regulate big feelings. Even though tantrums and meltdowns are more common in young children, they can still happen at any age.
Regardless if your child resembles a boiling kettle or an erupting volcano when they're throwing a fit, there are ways to coach your child to calm themselves down, even mid-meltdown. Just because a child has big emotions and sometimes struggles with self-soothing doesn't mean the parents are to blame. However, as a parent, there are some tips you can follow that will not only help your child but can be a big relief to you!
12 Expectations Need To Be Age-Appropriate
First of all, before teaching your child how to calm down during a meltdown, it's imperative to keep your expectations age-based and child-focused. For example, if your child is not talking completely yet, you can't expect her to tell you what her trigger is, so you may have to rely on physical cues.
Although meltdowns and tantrums can be a stressful occurrence, it's helpful when you've previously analyzed the needs of your own child, know of their triggers, and what methods could work prior to the outburst happening.
11 Rule Out Other Factors
Tantrums and meltdowns are very similar but also vary in many ways. A tantrum is an emotional outburst out of frustration or anger, typically in young children who don't get their way. Meltdowns are an intense response to a situation, such as feeling overwhelmed from what is occurring around them or their own reactions.
Meltdowns can also be triggered when a child is feeling unwell, overtired, hungry, thirsty, and overheated. Before assuming your child is being bad, consider the possibility of other factors being at play. Just like adults, when we don't feel at our best, our ability to cope with stressors can be limited.
10 Validate Feelings
Positive Psychology, a method gaining in popularity for its effectiveness, highlights what a person needs for optimal flourishment. Positive psychology encourages treatment to be person-centred and says: if someone feels truly heard, their functioning on multiple levels improves.
You can practice the method of letting your child be heard by showing you're receptive and validating that their emotions are not wrong. It's important to not label any emotions as bad since emotions are just a reaction occurring in the frontal lobe of the brain. If emotions are repressed or muted, this could lead to worse repercussions on your child's health and coping abilities.
9 Selective Attention
So what if the meltdown is behaviourally based? You know there is nothing biological causing the eruption, validating how they are feeling isn't working, and deep down, you know they're just doing it to get their way. Selective Attention has been scientifically proven to be an effective strategy for conditioning unwanted behavior.
This isn't suggesting to totally disregard your child's behavior every time they act out. With selective attention, you want to encourage positive behavior by giving your child your full attention when they try to self-soothe or calmly communicate. Granted, for the first few times you try this method, your child may act out even more to try and get your attention... but consistency is key!
8 Breathing Is #1
The reason taking breaths helps someone to relax is that it helps calm the brain by triggering neurons located deep in the brain stem. Not only does breathing calm you down with the use of neural pathways, but it also helps to focus attention and gain control over physiological stress.
Breathing works so well in calming a child mid-meltdown because it gives them that control back over their body. Breathing reminds them to be self-aware and give their brain time to rationalize their thoughts. Sometimes offering to breathe with your child or count their breaths can inspire cooperation.
7 Distraction Can Be A Mom's Best Friend
It isn't very realistic to think that your child will always be easy to calm every time they have a meltdown. Even if other methods seem to work most of the time, distraction can be used as a great last resort.
You might get lucky and whatever you use to distract your child may work right away. If not, a parent can choose to continue using that distraction with the hope the child will de-escalate independently and then decide to join in. Or choosing a different distraction activity that meets a sensory need can be helpful, especially if it provides your child with an outlet.
6 Consistency Is Key
Children are observant, more so than adults might give them credit for. That is why Permissive Parenting Styles, which is parenting with little to no guidelines and rules enforced on the children, can be manipulated so easily by kids starting from a young age.
A child thrives when there is structure, routine, and consistent enforcement of how behavior (good and bad) is addressed. Not only does this lay a healthy foundation for your child's development, but it also teaches mindfulness, which helps determinants like self-esteem blossom.
5 Have A De-Escalation Plan
It can be constructive while handling your child's meltdown if you already have a de-escalation plan prepared. What will you do when your child is melting down in public?
Instead of getting caught up in the moment, think of helping your child calm down as steps. If you see the meltdown coming on, which steps would work for your child to deter a flow blown cataclysm? The less anxious or hesitant you are in dealing with your child, the more your own emotional regulation will be modelled to your kid.
4 Positive Reinforcement Conditions Acceptable Behaviour
B.F. Skinner, a famous psychologist and behaviourist known for The Skinner Box, studied the use of operant conditioning on changing behaviours. Although he used rewards and punishments to condition behavior on rats, his theory proved that the use of positive reinforcement has limitless benefits on changing unfavourable behaviors.
From your child's perspective, learning to regulate emotions or rejection can be extremely challenging. If you acknowledge their efforts of trying to breathe through strong impulses or give a solid attempt of communicating how they're feeling, they learn that using their coping skills is easier than acting out.
3 Keep Your Own Emotions In Check
Coping skills, personality quirks, and mannerisms are some examples of the many things children learn from their parents. Children are sponges for all sorts of information, and that also includes modelled behaviour from parents that aren't always robust.
If a parent is becoming emotional while trying to calm the child through a meltdown, the outcome of it working out successfully isn't likely. Actively trying to be self-aware of your own outbursts or emotional responses, even if they aren't at a meltdown degree, can be great practice leading up to trying to console your child through a meltdown.
2 Offer Some Water
Did you know that dehydration can cause feelings of anxiety and irritability? Dehydration can actually cause quickened heart palpitations, thus creating other symptoms such as panic, rapid breathing, and emotional outbursts. This could explain why children have difficulty talking when they are at the peak of a meltdown.
Water has natural calming properties and aids in replenishing hydration, especially during times of high-stress. If their body is strained from high stress, it makes other important organs like the brain not function properly.
1 Talk It Through
Reasoning with your child, while mid-meltdown, isn't exactly the most reliable method of curtailing an outburst. So how would 'talking through' the meltdown be helpful to some children? After all, if you sound unempathetic to their perspective, it can make the situation a whole lot worse.
Especially for more sensitive children, sometimes all they need is to have someone attentive to help them calm down. If a parent remains calm, uses a soft and understanding tone, and gets down to the child's level, talking through the stressor can be an effective and quick solution to avoiding a calamity.