Understanding Meltdowns: Helpful Tips for Parents from a Pediatric Occupational Therapist
As an occupational therapist and a parent, I understand the challenges that parents face when their child experiences meltdowns. Meltdowns can be overwhelming and distressing for both the child and their parents. These helpful tips will allow us to explore meltdowns, and their causes, and provide you with strategies to help you and your child manage & navigate these tough moments.
What are meltdowns?
They are intense outbursts of emotions and behaviors that happen when a child becomes overwhelmed, frustrated, or unable to cope with a specific situation. Some children may struggle with regulating their emotions (e.g., kids who have sensory processing difficulties, autism, ADHD, anxiety disorders, disorganized attachment, etc.). There are many layers as to why a child may experience more meltdowns.
What can cause a meltdown?
1. Sensory overload – Overstimulation from the environment (e.g., loud noises, bright lights, crowded spaces, etc.). Some children are more sensitive to certain stimuli and that can create a trigger/stress response for them.
2. Communication Challenges – When a child is struggling to express their needs and wants it could lead to a meltdown as their way to communicate.
3. Transitions & changes – Routines and transitions can be hard for children. Unexpected/sudden changes or disruptions in their daily routine can lead to upsets.
4. Emotional regulation difficulties – Children who have challenges with managing and regulating their emotions may experience meltdowns as their emotions reach a breaking point (as a visual - volcano eruption as pictured above).
Tips for Managing Meltdowns:
1. Establish a routine – Predictability and structure can help many children by creating a sense of security and stability. When a child can understand what is happening and what is going to happen it will help reduce their stress response. They will understand the expectations better.
2. Create a soothing/calming environment – Do you know your child’s triggers/stressors? Look at modifying the environment if you feel your child is sound-sensitive, light-sensitive, etc. If they prefer or feel calmer when the environment is less “busy”, then look at what you can modify. Create a safe space for them to use.
3. Coping skills – Teach deep breathing techniques, and visualization techniques, utilize meditation tracks, and use sensory tools (e.g., fidgets, drinking water from a straw, etc.).
4. Validate their feelings – When your child is upset, wait and wait…. stop talking. Don’t add more to the situation. This can feel hard and the “go-to” response is to resolve the situation. When they are ready, you can start to empathize with them (e.g. “I can see that you are upset about….., that must have been hard or tricky for you…..”) Let them know you support them and their feelings.
5. Offer sensory input – Some children respond well to engaging in more “heavy work” or “proprioceptive” input to help calm their nervous system. As adults, we might use yoga, walking, or going to the gym to make us feel better. Same premise…figure out what physical activity might create a more positive response to their nervous system. Have they tried Cosmic Yoga on Youtube? GoNoodle? Spending time together enjoying a physical activity, can create positive memories and feelings.
6. Seek out assistance – You can talk to a therapist about your concerns. Individuals with experience working with children can help you understand and collaborate on solutions that fit your family’s dynamics.
If you are looking for added support in finding ways to support your child, you can reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post today.