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How Do I Help My Child During Meltdowns? What Do I Do?!

By January 1, 2016November 19th, 2020Blogs, Dr. Jenny Yip

Yelling, screaming, tears and sometimes hitting and throwing things makes for quite an ordeal! For children, parents and everyone else who bears witness (sorry Fido), a meltdown (or tantrum) can disrupt a family’s day and strain a family’s physical and emotional resources. Any child can experience a meltdown and for children with anxiety, meltdowns can be intense and may look and feel like a setback.

Understanding why a meltdown (or tantrum) occurs is the key to managing the frequency of this behavior. Communicating with your child during a meltdown can be difficult and time consuming; however, understanding why the tantrum happened gives you valuable information toward reshaping the behavior. Additionally, it shows your child that you are invested in understanding their needs and have placed a priority on listening and reflecting that they have been heard. Check out some of the tips below to support both parent and child during a meltdown.
Assume a calm, supportive presence: It can be instinctual for parents to assume control over a situation by using their physical presence in a commanding way. Try sitting or getting eye level with your child, using non-verbal cues to show support.
Remain calm: Problem solving abilities are decreased when in a state of anger. If both parent and child are behaving based on emotions, the best problem solving skills are rendered ineffective. Remaining calm allows parents to leverage problem solving skills into creative solutions
Acknowledge and applaud any attempts to calm down: Use a calm tone to reinforce self-soothing behaviors and any acceptance of assistance or intervention. It can be hard to remember how big and scary the world seems to your child and how their ‘little’ problems feel like your ‘real’ problems. Show them that you recognize their smallest efforts to adjust and manage their feelings.
Create and utilize a calm kit: Get together with your child and design items that inspire and re-establish calm. Note cards with calming phrases, smells (oils and herbs) and stress balls can be included in a kit that can be used on the go. Take time to create and personalize items, worry stones can be used to engage the senses and offer a substitute behavior. Additionally, you and your child can set intentions for the worry stones (This stone will soak up my homework worries or I rub this stone when I worry about time). Other ideas such as a fire breathing cup complete with red paper ‘flames’ creatively encourage use of breathing techniques to restore calm.
Focus on understanding and reshaping the behavior: It can be easy to take meltdowns personally and engage in ineffective reaction behaviors instead of helpful responding behaviors. Try to maintain perspective and remind yourself that you and your child are on the same team.

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