Melt downs are something that every child experiences at least once and awhile. Melt downs occur when a child is overcharged and overwhelmed. Children are typically not able to stop a tantrum or a meltdown until they are worn out. However, we as adults can do so much to help a child in the middle of a meltdown.
Once a child is triggered they are no longer thinking with ration, but instead they are in fight, flight, or freeze mode. Children often depend on teachers, parents, or caregivers. Telling a child to “calm down” isn’t going to help the situation. Helping the child calm down is the answer.
Children learn self-regulation skills through experiencing tuned-in and responsive caregiving.
Being regulated as a caregiver, especially with a child during a meltdown, will help children in your care with their ability to self-regulate, as children learn through modeling.
So what can we do as parents, teachers, and caregivers to help prevent melt downs and help a child through melt downs? We can recognize and validate emotions.
The same techniques can be used for children of all ages. When a child initially appears like they are starting to feel sad, angry, or worried we need to acknowledge those emotions. Try saying simple phrases like:
“I know you are so mad right now.”
“I see you are crying, you look scared.”
“You are angry; it is okay to be angry.”
These phrases can be used before and during a meltdown. Once the child understands that the adult notices their emotions, then you can remind the child of the limits and rules with that emotions. Be careful not to use the word “but” as this can invalidate an emotion.
“I know you are so mad at your sister right now and you can’t hit her”
“You are so scared right now and we can’t hide in the dryer”
“You are angry, it is okay to be angry, it is not okay to throw toys”
Once a child has begun to regulate you can move on to helping the child brainstorm solutions to their challenge. If at any point the child begins to escalate again, start over and validate their emotions again.
When you and the child have come up with a genuine solution to the problem, follow through with the solution. Sometimes solutions are as little as a hug or a deep breath, while other times solutions might be a little more complex, like setting a timer for turn taking, playing a game, or listening to a favorite song.
For more information:
Written by: Alice Boutz, LMSW – Mental Health Specialist