If you’re a parent of a child on the spectrum, you may know how difficult meltdowns can be. They’re not only frustrating but also heartbreaking; you love your child more than life itself and watching them in such a heightened state of distress makes you feel like you’re being ripped in half. Sure, you can do your best to prevent meltdowns, but that’s not always feasible. So what do you do when they strike? Here are seven actions that I have to come back to a few times a week, and today especially since it was a bad one.
KEEP YOUR COOL
Kids can often pick up on their parents’ negative emotions. A testy tone or a harsh word during a meltdown may just fuel the fire by upsetting them even further. In order to help your child regulate their emotions, ensure yours are in check. If you feel you’re about to explode, take a deep breath through your nose for four seconds, hold it for two, and let it out slowly through your mouth for six. Pause for a moment before repeating this ritual. The beauty of this exercise is that you can do it while helping your child.
APPLY DEEP PRESSURE
Deep pressure therapy is often helpful for kids on the spectrum when they’re in distress. If you have something like a weighted blanket, use it to cover your child. If not, hugging or massaging them may also help. Just make sure they’re okay with it by asking something like, “Do you need a hug?” or “Do you want me to rub your shoulders?”
TONE DOWN THE ENVIRONMENT
Reducing sensory input may seem pretty basic, but it’s big for those with Sensory Processing Disorder. Dim the lights. Bring down the noise. If possible and appropriate, remove your child’s clothes if they’re contributing to sensory overload. If none of that is possible, do your best to remove your child from the situation.
EMPATHIZE INSTEAD OF RATIONALIZE
Ever been extremely upset and had someone say “Calm down?” It probably made everything even worse. Similarly, when a person is anxious due to a meltdown, emotion has hijacked their brain. You may be frustrated, but telling them about how they’re going to miss the bus if they don’t hurry will likely be unhelpful at best, counterproductive at worst; your child may feel their pain is being dismissed. Instead, try to get inside their head and feel what they feel. Say things like, “I know all these noises and lights hurt,” or “I know you feel like the world is ending,” or “I know you’re scared.” Be sure to speak very softly, too!
REDIRECT THEIR MIND
Introduce a distraction. Offer them a toy, sing their favorite song… whatever you think will offer them a suitable, healthy diversion. Don’t stop them from stimming; it’s often a way for them to self-soothe.
GIVE THEM A SPECIAL SPOT
Whether it’s a tent, a spare room, or a cozy corner, having a Safe Place for your child to go in the midst of a meltdown can help them regain a sense of calm. It not only establishes structure and routine but also allows them to have much-needed alone time.