Reducing Meltdowns

By Laura Keys, LCSW, Courier & Press, Sept. 19, 2017

If you are the parent or caregiver of a young child, you have most likely experienced the dreaded meltdown or temper tantrum. You also know it is not a delightful experience for you or your child.

Children do not like to feel out of control or unsafe, which is often what is occurring during a meltdown. If you are new to the game of parenting or caregiving, these meltdowns or tantrums do not magically end when kids leave the “terrible twos” and turn three. In some cases, they can continue through a child’s early elementary years.

However, for most kids and their parents or caregivers there is relief.  There are a few things you can do to help speed or at least ease the process and build your child’s self-esteem at the same time.

One of my favorite books to recommend to parents is  “No More Meltdowns,”  by Jed Baker, Ph.D.   I like this book because he uses examples where he, as both a therapist and parent, has sometimes struggled or had to try different approaches before finding the right one for his client or his own child.   In both cases, he keeps trying until he finds success.

 This is a reminder that no one is perfect.  Each child is different, and what works for one child may not work for the next child.  He also gives practical, common-sense advice.

For example, see if there is a time pattern or specific trigger before a meltdown occurs.  Is your child hungry or tired because of a missed snack or nap?  Are they off their normal routine for some reason?  Does your child always have a tantrum when you buy a birthday present for another child?

Once you identify the problem you can avoid the trigger in the future.  As your child becomes older and more communicative these will become teachable moments.  Not only will you be trying to avoid uncomfortable tantrums for you and your child, you will be teaching them the beginning steps of self-problem solving.

If a slightly older child has issues with homework such as math, always start with a few problems they can work successfully.  This will give them confidence before moving on to problems they are struggling with.  Always praise their efforts.

Yes, you want them to develop their skills, but if they feel they are mentally or emotionally defeated before they even get started on a task, it increases the likelihood they will get frustrated, give up, shut down or turn the situation into a power struggle.  Power struggles can cause a meltdown for both you and your child.

Trying to reason with a child during a meltdown does not usually work.  The child’s reasoning capabilities are most likely not engaged at this point.  The goal at this point is to soothe and comfort.   This does not mean giving in; it means keeping the child from hurting himself or others.  Remember that children with certain conditions will be more difficult to help through tantrums than others.

In emergency situations, Dr. Baker recommends distraction.  However, he cautions not to use this all the time as the child will learn this as their primary coping skill.  As they get older they may learn that distraction is a way to avoid doing what they don’t want to do, (i.e. math problems).

Hopefully, this article is a reminder to parents that you are not alone; there are resources available if you are interested or feel you need assistance.  Dr. Baker’s book is just the tip of the iceberg.

Also, remember, throwing a good tantrum is part of a toddler’s job and a parent’s rite-of-passage.  And yes, despite everyone’s best efforts, sometimes you buy the toy and leave the store or exit the restaurant as quickly as possible.