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Mastering Meltdowns: Practical Tips for Parents and Caregivers

Parenting can be challenging, especially when it comes to managing meltdowns in children of all ages. Whether it's a toddler throwing a tantrum or a teenager reacting emotionally, meltdowns can be stressful and overwhelming for parents. But rest assured, you're not alone in this struggle. In this blog, we'll explore some practical tips and strategies to help you navigate these challenging moments and support your child's emotional well-being. So take a deep breath, and let's dive in!


How often do you feel confident in your ability to help your child calm down during a meltdown or tantrum?

  • 0%Most of the time

  • 0%Working on it and seeing improvement

  • 0%Need more help

  • 0%Never


The pandemic may be over 2.5 years since it began, but the significant changes it brought to our lives continue to impact us today. From remote work and online schooling to social distancing and ongoing uncertainty, the past couple of years have taken a toll on everyone's mental health and well-being in one way or another. For children, especially, the disruption to their structured and predictable environments has been particularly challenging, leading to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and emotional outbursts.

As a parent or caregiver, there's nothing quite as challenging as dealing with a child's meltdown. Whether it's triggered by a missed nap, a frustrating school assignment, or a simple disagreement, these emotional outbursts can quickly escalate and leave everyone feeling overwhelmed and stressed. In fact, in my work with families, I've noticed a sharp rise in the negative impact that meltdowns can have on family dynamics. That's why I'm excited to share some evidence-based, practical strategies that can help you manage meltdowns and support your child's emotional well-being, no matter what their age.

Tip #1 - Work hard to find and understand the triggers and patterns


The first step is always to ensure that your child's basic needs are met. Fatigue, hunger, illness, not feeling safe, or lack of sleep, can all contribute to additional stress and a lack of emotional control.


Next, it's essential to look at the triggers by observing what is happening just before meltdowns occur. While we often think they come out of nowhere, there are always signs that can help us anticipate and prevent future meltdowns. This might involve taking note of certain environmental factors or situations that tend to trigger your child's emotional outbursts and finding ways to avoid or manage them proactively.


Does your child do her math homework fine, but then gets restless and irritable when it is time to do her reading? What might this tell us? Perhaps, she is struggling with reading or doesn't know where to begin and is feeling stuck. Does your teenage son have an attitude with you after getting home from hanging out with his friends? What could have gone on? Maybe he had an argument or was feeling left out. Understanding the triggers and patterns will greatly help you with meeting your child in times of distress with greatly curiously and compassion.


As parents, we are quick to say, "Why is my child having this behavior and how do I stop it?"

Instead ask, "What is this behavior telling me about why my child is struggling?"


Tip #2 - Communication During Meltdowns


Validation: By empathizing with their emotions and validating their experiences, you can help them feel heard, understood, and supported, which can go a long way in helping them manage their emotions and prevent future meltdowns.


Co-regulation: This consists of a few important actions on your part. First, your tone of voice should be calm, quiet and match the tone you are wanting to hear from your child. Next, your facial expression needs to be warm and inviting. Make eye contact and show empathy. Finally, you must show an open posture which means you are not crossing your arms, but rather opening your arms, palms facing our with you chin and chest facing upwards. This shows your child that you are inviting them in for warmth, affection (if they will allow it) and an invitation to calm their nervous system.

Co-regulation requires adults to maintain a calm brain state during a conflict. This strategy will help a young person calm their nervous system in a time of stress.

Less is More: We cannot make sense of meltdowns in the moment, so don't try. In fact, your child's thinking brain is no longer making decisions, so no amount of helping them to think will be worth your time and energy in the moment. Less talking is actually more helpful, after you have validated their emotions in a clear and concise way, of course. All we want to do at this time is help them to calm their nervous system.

Tip #3 - Coping Skills


Help your child develop coping skills. This might include teaching them deep breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, or other relaxation techniques that can help them calm down when they're feeling overwhelmed. If you have a child resistant to your direct support or affection, come up with a "Calming Center" in your home where your child can go to reset. This might include offering them a choice of calming tools, such as fidgets, Thinking Putty, or a beanbag, as well as the option to play calming music or snuggle with their favorite stuffed toy or pillow. By giving children some control over their environment, they can feel empowered to manage their emotions and cope with stress in a healthy way. (Picture below sourced from: MindfulLittles.org)

Consistency and repetition is critical in teaching coping skills, emphasizing that these skills take time and practice to develop. Offer tips for teaching these coping strategies to your child, such as practicing them together when things are feeling calm, role-playing different scenarios, and providing positive reinforcement for their efforts.


Parents, you must do your best to model healthy coping strategies yourselves, as children often learn by watching their parents' behavior.


Tip #4 - Communication After Meltdowns

When communicating with children after a meltdown, it's important to teach them that it's okay to have strong emotions but not okay to act out. By having open and supportive conversations about their triggers, parents can help their children become more self-aware and manage their emotions appropriately. With practice, children can learn to anticipate and avoid triggers by coming up with alternative ways of thinking and perceiving the problem. Parents can also choose to respond to their child's behavior in a calm and constructive manner, rather than reacting with anger or frustration. Revisiting previous events and strategizing about what could have been done differently can help children gain confidence and improve their self-management skills. Overall, consistent communication and a positive approach can help parents and children work together to manage meltdowns and develop coping strategies for the future.


In conclusion, managing meltdowns in children and teens is not an easy task, but it is crucial for their emotional and mental well-being. It requires a combination of strategies that address the situation and the underlying factors contributing to the behavior.


By remaining calm and empathetic during a meltdown, parents, caregivers, and educators can help children and teens regulate their emotions and regain control. However, it is also important to provide consistent practice and a supportive environment for them to learn and develop coping skills for future situations.


Using a combination of strategies in the moment and afterwards, children and teens can learn to manage their emotions and cope with stress in healthy ways. This can lead to improved overall well-being, greater independence, and success in life.


 

If you're looking for expert guidance and practical strategies to help your child manage their emotions, we invite you to join our upcoming Q&A presentation.


Please consider sharing with others as the mission at IYM is to spread awareness and help individuals be the best versions of themselves - parents in this case!


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