What do meltdowns look like?
1. All Kinds of Emotions
Most of the time we think a
meltdown looks like crying, falling to the floor, and screaming. That's
true of some meltdowns, but not all. Some meltdowns look like
aggression - flailing, hitting out, throwing, pushing away, hitting
themselves. Some meltdowns look like giddiness - laughing, running
around, giggling, throwing, doing something they know they shouldn't.
They may look like naughtiness, but the child can't stop themselves.
Some look like yelling and anger. Some meltdowns look like withdrawals -
silence, looking away, ignoring. The child may wait until they're at
home or with their parent before they can release this kind of meltdown.
If they can't release it, the withdrawal may continue until shutdown.
If the child stops acting out, we may think that's good, but it may be
worse - shutdown and giving up.
2. Look For Clues
If your child melts down, the issue is not as simple as the behaviors ("your child hit
another child."). We need to look at all the details. What environment,
what time, what demands were being placed on the child, who was
involved before, during, and after, what the sensory input was going on,
what happened earlier in the day. There may be clues to what triggered the meltdown.
3. Adjust the Relationship
But it always comes down to the relationships. Relationships are the comfort zone where we allow and accept all emotions, supporting the child through the expression and working through them. Often the child's behavior is letting us know that the relationship needs re-connection and repair. For example, a child who melts down at school may be overwhelmed by all the input and processing. But it's likely that there's too much direction and correction going on and not enough connection. Parents need to understand this, but so do the other people in our children's lives.
4. Recovery within a Relationship is Key
When meltdowns happen, whatever their form and even if they happen in
school, the child needs recovery time. They need someone they trust who
can calm and comfort them. After calming down, they need some play to
remind them that they are okay, they are loved and loveable. No one
likes that feeling of vulnerability after losing control, especially our
children, especially in public or in front of others. They should not be isolated and alone after a meltdown, no matter what their behavior
involved, or as punishment. They need help and support, even if it's
someone calmly, compassionately, non-judgmentally sitting with them.
They need our calm and trust in them, that they are okay and that the
relationship is okay.