A meltdown is the platform through which children with special needs are able to communicate their fears and anxiety with others.
It can be described as a volcanic eruption of stress expressed in the form of shouting and crying, often brought on by sensory overload or tiredness and is an inevitable part of parenting children with special needs. Though unpleasant for onlookers to witness, for the child it is a last resort to make their feelings heard.
For parents, these incidences can be very frightening and stressful to manage. For the child, enduring the experience can be totally overwhelming, physically painful and exhausting. Children instinctively seek out methods to help calm themselves down but there is much we can do as parents to help this process.
Here are my 6 top tips to successfully manage a meltdown:
1. Manage your own stress levels and regulate your tone of voice:
Children are very intuitive and will immediately pick up on your mood. If your child senses your anxiety at their behaviour it will compound their stress and prolong their meltdown. Irrespective of how you feel, try to maintain a calm disposition and speak with firm but calm tone of voice.
2. Move your child to a quiet place:
Though it may seem as though your child is out of control and they are unaware of their surroundings, their feelings are compounded by the embarrassment that there are by-standers witnessing their behaviour. Even if they are reluctant to move try to redirect them to a quiet place. At home, their bedroom is a soothing start, at friends houses ask to have access to a quiet room with a sofa, if in a supermarket, make a calm but quick dash for the car.
3. Confine your child into a warm, space that helps to restrict their movement:
If your child is tucked into bed, or wrapped in a blanket on a sofa, they will already start to feel soothed by their own body heat. The same can be said for securing them into a car seat with their seatbelt fastened. This action helps to give your child a sense of their physical self, it is similar to the effect that a regular child feels from a hug, the restriction of their body movements is calming. This is especially important for those children who don’t like to be touched by others.
4. Generate added weight through towels or heavy blankets:
Deep pressure, heavy blankets or weighted vests can be highly beneficial for children with special needs. The added weight provides the special needs child with information from their muscles and joints, calming erratic movements that are hard to control. As a result they feel more secure and are better able to calm themselves and regulate their breathing.
5. Be honest with your child and provide positive reinforcement to your child throughout the process:
Calmly talk your child through what is happening to him. Explain that it is okay to feel overwhelmed and cry. Reaffirm that you are with him, that you love him and you are both working together to calm down. Encourage gentle breathing exercises and compliment your child on their ability to calm down. This may take time but keep focussed and you will get through to your child.
6. Take a moment to sit with your child and share a warm drink and a snack:
Once your child has successfully calmed down, take some time to enjoy a calming drink and snack with your child that will help restore some of their energy giving them and you the strength to go about your day.