Tips for Avoiding and De-escalating Meltdowns Part Two

To read part one of this series which is an account of my personal experiences with Bethany’s meltdowns please click here.

Before I begin discussing avoiding and de-escalating meltdowns, I want to share an expanded definition of the term, Meltdown, that was given to me by Julie Sparks @Life With the Spectrum.

In a tantrum (which many non-educated people think is the same thing as a meltdown), the individual retains all their functioning capacity and are frequently observed checking on other peoples’ reactions. In a meltdown, an individual’s functioning capacity is diminished. It is the equivalent of a child losing 15 IQ points! This is HUGE. You go from dealing with someone who is rational to someone who is irrational. This is why if at all possible, wait them out or prevent it from happening in the first place.
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To avoid and prevent meltdowns, Jed Baker PhD., recommends in his book, No More Meltdowns, that parents of difficult children start with two things:

1) Always lay out clear rules and expectations in terms understandable to your child and then be very consistent with those rules.

2) Accept and appreciate your child even when they drive you crazy. (I would also add here to make sure your child knows that you’ll always love them- no matter what.)

Accepting and appreciating our children involves controlling our own tempers, giving our children plenty of praise, creating activities to ensure that our children experience success, and avoiding constant power struggles with them. (We need to carefully pick and choose our battles.)

Even with the above plan in place it is entirely possible that an occasional meltdown will still occur, especially if your child has autism, mood disorders, sleep disorders or other mental health issues. We need to try figure out our child’s meltdown triggers, come up with a meltdown prevention plan, and learn how to de-escalate meltdowns.

Figuring Out The Triggers That Cause our Child’s Meltdowns

A) We need to know the circumstances that happened before the meltdown occurred. This is known as the Antecedent.
B) What was the child’s undesirable Behavior?
C) What happened after the undesirable behavior occurred? What was the Consequence of the behavior? Did the child get positive re-enforcement for behaving that way? If so, she is more than likely going to repeat that behavior.

Some possible antecedents to a meltdown might be:
sensory overload
unclear expectations
being asked to do something he didn’t want to do
not getting desired attention
a reaction to a food

Some possible consequences to a meltdown might be:
The child was able to avoid something
the child got attention (even negative attention)
the child got a desired object
the child’s frustration was released

The parent can keep a chart of the child’s ABC’s- antecedents, behaviors, and consequences.   With this information they may see a pattern emerge and be able to create a tailor made meltdown prevention plan.  Once we know or suspect what our child’s meltdown triggers are we can work to eradicate them. Did the behavior always occur after the child ate marshmallows? Then remove marshmallow from their diet. Does the behavior always happen in a crowded and noisy store? Then avoid taking the child shopping during busy hours or altogether for a while. Was the task too hard for the child? Then modify the task.

Of course we must always explain to our children their triggers and teach them skills to deal with them. A system of rewards and consequences with visual supports may be very helpful for this purpose. We can practice or role play to teach alternative methods for handling their triggers. We can remove the sensory stimulation that triggered a meltdown. We can warn our children that a change of activity is coming. We should also make sure that our children are getting enough exercise and sleep. We can give them a snack if they are hungry.

De-escalating a Meltdown

Unfortunately  when all is said and done, a meltdown may still occur.   When a meltdown happens we can try to distract the child with a favorite snack, toy, activity, or by using humor. During a meltdown we should validate the child’s feelings. One child might appreciate a touch on the shoulder, while another may need his space. Some children may find that fidgeting with a squeeze ball or other  fidget item calms them. Perhaps drawing, watching TV, or listening to music might calm one child. Rocking or swinging may calm them down too. Essential oils, nutritional supplements, or special diets may help.

When all else fails, some children will still at times have meltdowns and parents may just have to wait  out the storm.  And as much as I hate to say this, I would not entirely rule out medications either. Some children might greatly benefit from medication.

Information for this post was taken from, No More Meltdowns by Jed Baker PhD., (2008) Future Horizons- Arlington, TX
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8 Replies to “Tips for Avoiding and De-escalating Meltdowns Part Two

  1. I love Julie’s way of explaining the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum. Thanks for sharing the information, Sylvia. And I wish for no more marshmallow attacks.

    1. I really like her definition too. And thanks for the well wishes. I went to Tops (the smaller quieter, grocery store that Bethany has always had successful visits to) today and right at the entrance was a huge bin filled with giant marshmallows. There was no way to enter the store and not see them! I’m so glad Bethany was not with me!

  2. Not too many meltdowns here any more but I’ve found an essential part of ensuring calm and cooperation is to fulfill Mis 17’s need to know what is going to happen and what is going to happen next. It’s worth my time to map out the day (or hour, or next event) and answer any repeat questions – even if I’m feeling impatient my rational mind tells me that if she’s asking it’s because she needs to know, not because she is trying to be buggy. Repeated questions are a sign that she is feeling some anxiety, or feeling that she is not being listened to. Answering reassures her that she has control over her life.

    Routine is also key but she is surprisingly flexible and adaptable as long as I tell her what will happen! Like, after breakfast, get changed, drive to X, stop for Y, get to activity Z then will be home for lunch then take sister to an activity, take brother to other activity, stop for groceries… and yes, we can get a smoothie on the way etc. You get it!

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