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It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Your kid is at the playground and out of nowhere has a meltdown–they drop to their knees and start screaming. What do you do? Use these tips to help your child during a meltdown.
What is the Difference Between a Tantrum and a Meltdown?
Often meltdowns and tantrums are used interchangeably. However, they are quite different. The main difference between a tantrum and a meltdown is a tantrum has an obvious trigger, while a meltdown does not. Meltdowns are a full-body reaction to being overstimulated. Unlike tantrums, kids aren’t in control of meltdowns.
Imagine your child in the grocery store. You roll past their favorite cookies and don’t stop to put them in the cart. They start to shout and wail until they jump out of the cart and grab all the cookies they can from the shelves and throw them to the floor. This is a tantrum. There’s a clear trigger in this imaginary situation–boy, do they want those cookies.
However, a meltdown is different. There’s no obvious sign as to why a child has one–they’re brought on because of emotional overload. Imagine your child again in the grocery store. Perhaps, they’re bundled up in their winter coat. The grocery store is packed with people, and it’s close to dinner time. Out of nowhere, your child jumps from the cart and begins flailing on the floor, inconsolable. There were several potential triggers in this situation–maybe your child was overstimulated by the busy grocery store, was hungry and tired after a long day, perhaps they were even hot because they were wearing their winter coat.
How Can You Help Your Child?
Unfortunately, you can’t stop a meltdown once it begins and managing it once it occurs is more challenging than a tantrum. But the good news is you can learn your child’s meltdown triggers to be aware of when a meltdown is imminent. Additionally, you can manage how you react to your kid’s meltdown and help them regain control.
1. Stay Calm
The most crucial step is staying calm. If you can’t manage your own emotions, you won’t be able to help your child regulate theirs. Be prepared to help your child by keeping a clear head. You can do this!
2. Ensure Your Child is Safe
Do a quick check of the area to ensure the environment is safe. Children who have meltdowns may unintentionally hurt themselves or others. Quickly remove dangerous materials from the room or any toys that could turn into projectiles.
3. Offer Water or Food
Many meltdowns occur because a kid is thirsty or hungry. Try offering water or a healthy snack to your child to meet their basic needs. Hunger or thirst will impair basic cognitive functioning.
4. Try Sensory Options
Give your child sensory input to snap them out of their meltdown. Try playdough, squeeze balls, bubble gum, or give them a laundry basket to push. Providing your kid with some sensory activities will help them to relax.
5. Connect and Offer Space
Connect with your child by getting down on their level, making eye contact and letting them know you’re there. Walk them through deep breathing techniques like the 4-7-8 breath to help even their heart rate. If it seems like they need space, lower the lights, turn on some soothing music and offer a cuddly blanket or stuffed animal.
6. Promote Self Regulation
Utilize a calm down kit to help your child regulate their emotions and come out of their meltdown. You can easily create an anti-anxiety kit and fill it with helpful activities for your child like a squeezy ball, bubbles, stickers, unique books and crayons. Put the kit in a calm-down corner where your child can go if they start to feel anxious or notice any of their triggers.
7. Change Your Language
Additionally, try helping your child process their emotions by using precise language. Instead of saying “calm down,” use the phrase “take a deep breath.” “Calm down” can inadvertently encourage children to bottle up feelings, while “take a deep breath” directs them to positive action. Encourage your child to count to ten if they look frustrated and try to label emotions for them like anger or sadness. Labeling emotions is crucial in modeling self-regulation skills.
Support Your Child Today
Meltdowns can be frightening for any parent. But know there’s good news–you can help your child by being aware of their triggers. Observe your kid closely to learn their triggers and be prepared for a meltdown by having sensory options on hand and a calm down kit.
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