Meltdowns are, without a doubt, one of the hardest things to deal with when you have a child with special needs.
Of course not all children with special needs have meltdowns, but for many of us, meltdowns are something we have to deal with. And they can be one of the hardest things.
The first thing you have to understand is that meltdowns are NOT tantrums. This can be hard to get your head around, because meltdowns seem like extreme tantrums. And sometimes can be triggered by them not getting what they want.
I found this by far the most difficult part about dealing with meltdowns for a long time.
Every time my son had meltdowns I would lose my temper and tell him off as if he was being naughty.
But he wasn’t.
When your child has meltdowns, they aren’t being naughty. And you should never tell them off, because that will make the situation worse.
When your child has a meltdown. They will begin with a feeling of stress, anxiety or upset. This could be caused by them being told no, being told off for something, or it could be a reaction to a sensory issue.
Children often have meltdowns in places like shopping centers, due to the fluorescent lighting, the noise, the rush of people. Or to the fact that it is the place that they will often want something and get told no.
Related Article: What are Sensory Problems?
If your child is told no, or being told off for something, here is how that can turn into a meltdown:
To start with your child will begin to throw a tantrum. But then, the emotions they are feeling will begin to spread into an uncontrollable feeling of severe anxiety, stress and upset that they won’t understand. This will eventually manifest in a meltdown, which will then get much worse if you tell them off. And add in the lighting, the noise, and the swarm of people. Then you notice the judgmental stares, which make you even more stressed which your child then picks up on as well.
All this results in a massive uncontrollable meltdown.
The important thing to remember is that your child can NOT control a meltdown. There’s no point shouting at them or trying to discipline them for it, because they can’t consciously control it. And by getting cross or angry with them you are just going to create more anxiety in them and make meltdowns worse.
How do you know for sure when it’s a meltdown and not a tantrum?
There are ways you can quickly and easily identify meltdowns:
- When a child has a meltdown they will not have any consideration for their own safety, they may even do things that physically hurt themselves.
- When a child has a meltdown they will not be watching for your reaction, if your child is judging your reactions to see if you are going to change your mind then this is more like to be a tantrum.
- When a child has a meltdown they don’t seem to be in control of their own behaviour. In other words they are literally out of control.
So, here’s exactly how to deal with meltdowns?
When your child has a meltdown, if possible, try not to move them. If you were to grab their arm, for example, and try and get them out the shopping centre, or wherever you are. This will only compound the meltdown. Either stay still, or if they are stood in the centre of a walkway with people swarming round them, calmly and gently get them to the closest side, corner or calmest space.
Don’t get cross. Don’t get stressed (which can be very difficult when people are staring at you) and don’t shout.
Calmly tell them that it’s ok.
This is so difficult with people staring at you.
I always felt like people were staring because they thought he was just having a tantrum, and that I should be disciplining him for it.
Well, screw them. And screw their ignorant opinions.
Don’t discipline your child, give them love and comfort and calmness.
If the meltdown was originally triggered by a tantrum over not getting what they wanted or being told off for something, later when the meltdown is well and truly over and they are completely ok again, you can explain to them calmly why they couldn’t have what they wanted, or why they were being told off in the first place. But of course how much explanation you give will depend on the level of understanding your child has.
Related Article: The Greatest Book Written About Autism – EVER!
Not knowing how to deal with meltdowns is without a doubt one of the hardest parts about being a parent of a child with special needs. And if you are able to react to a meltdown quickly and in the right way, you will be able to stop a meltdown almost before it starts.
Nowadays, after a lot of practice, I can recognise when a meltdown is starting, and by using the technique above, I can stop it ever developing into a full meltdown. And I have found that by explaining calmly later on, why he couldn’t have what he wanted or why he was being told off in the first place. He takes in what I am saying better. And his overall behaviour has improved as a result.
Please comment below and share any stories of meltdowns you’ve had. Often as a parent we feel really alone, and it can be comforting to know you’re not the only person experiencing this.