If you’re a parent ofa 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 distressmakes 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 you can try taking. (Hint: manyof thesetips can also help you handleanxiety in general!)
1. Keep Your Cool
Kidscan often pick up on their parents’ negative emotions. A testy tone or a harsh word during a meltdownmay 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 ofthis exercise is that you can do it while helping your child.
2. 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 yourchild. If not, hugging or massagingthemmay 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?”
3.Tone Down the Environment
Reducing sensory inputmay seem pretty basic, but it’s bigfor those with Sensory Processing Disorder. Dim the lights. Bring down the noise. If possible and appropriate, remove yourchild’s clothes if they’re contributing to sensory overload. If none of that is possible, do your best to remove your childfrom the situation.
4. 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 childmayfeel 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 youfeel like the world isending,” or “I know you’re scared.” Be sure to speak very softly, too!
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5.Redirect Their Mind
Introduce a distraction. Offer them atoy, sing their favorite song… whatever you think will offer them a suitable, healthy diversion.Don’t stop them from stimming; it’soften a way for themto self-soothe.
6. Decide Where You Stand on the Restraint Debate
Should a parent physically restrain their child who is having a meltdown? It’s a dicey question, the answer of which should be left up to the parent to decide (so long as the restraint does not border into abuse, of course). Some parents may use this tactic if their childrenhurt others or themselves during a meltdown. But for those who don’t want to use restraint, “guiding” the child’s actionsmay be an alternative. For instance, if they try to bang their head against something hard, intervene by putting a pillow between their headand the target surface.
7.Give Them aSpecial Spot
Whether it’s a tent, a spare room, or a cozy corner, having a Safe Placefor your child to go in the midst of a meltdown can help them regain a sense of calm. It notonly establishes structure and routine but also allows themto have much-needed alone time.
A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.