The first part of this week was incredibly tough. Michael was being triggered by so many different things and at the most vulnerable time of the day for all of us-early evening. After a particularly tough night when he’d finally calmed down, I told him I was glad he was calm and that we would need to talk tomorrow afternoon about how he could handle future stressors better. He surprised me by not only asking for confirmation that I was not giving up on him changing, but also calmly and in detail explained to me what has been setting him off and why he gets carried away and needs help to redirect. To say I was impressed was an understatement. This is every parent’s dream, to have their child, no matter what their challenges, be able to articulate what their mistake was and what they needed to do to change. I was so proud of him for that and told him so.
This got me thinking about my part in Michael’s meltdowns. No, I am not blaming myself for his difficult in learning how to self-regulate. But, sometimes unintentionally I have been saying or doing things that are misconstrued as critical or negative. To someone who has the ability to regulate, they would merely be annoyed. To someone who is challenged in this area, their frustration would definitively escalate to the point of anger and even intense anger. I am learning that the tone of my voice, the words I choose and the context all can make or break a tense moment. Now, again by no means am I saying that the parent or adult causes the meltdown. But the lack of understanding can cause things to go better or badly very quickly.
What I have learned and am now still tweaking, is how I need to stay calm, collected and almost clinical when Michael starts to unravel in order to do my best to show him how to redirect himself. This has been working, even on our toughest nights, as Michael is slowly starting to understand how he can control how little or big his anger is.
There are signs parents can spot that a meltdown is coming. There are slight differences, but for most kids it looks like this:
1) Talking or moving faster
2) Irritability that is not fading but increasing with each second
3) Crying or anxiety
4) Standing too close to you
5) Voice or sounds getting louder
What can a parent do when you see one or more of these signs?
1) Prompt them to breathe
2) Ask them what they need, you to be close or move away
3) Redirect them to a safe place (ideally have this place or places in mind before the meltdown)
4) Stay calm yourself by not screaming or reacting
5) Do not talk if meltdown progresses and if you need to one or two words like breathe, calm. Silence is usually preferable.
6) When you can, go somewhere to regroup yourself especially if you are angry or need to cry
Exceptional Parents, what do you do when your child has a meltdown and what have you done that has helped de-escalate the tantrum? If you’re not sure where to turn, there are great resources and articles out there. But really, the best predictor of how a meltdown will go is if you and your child have good self-regulating strategies, learn how to stay calm in a crisis, and if possible, are able to redirect thoughts away from negative or stressful events and towards positive ones. Take care of yourself so that you can be at your best, and then you’ll be your child’s ideal guide to learn about self-regulation. Until next time.