We have now come to the 3rd and final portion of this blog post series about understanding both defiance and dysregulation.
To recap, we now know:
But we still need to address- what to do when you realize it’s dysregulation.
In the first post, we learned that dysregulation is the result of a child being overwhelmed by stimuli, either internally or externally. Dysregulation is often termed as a “meltdown” by parents and other caregivers. The purpose of the meltdown is not to get something but rather it is the end result of your child not knowing what else to do with the feelings.
But the question still remains- how can you help your child when a meltdown occurs and still stay sane yourself?
5 Tips For Dealing with a Meltdown
#1. Know what it is and REMEMBER this.
Tell yourself over and over (if you need to do so) that it’s not the child being “bad” but it’s a way to express what is going on inside.
The biggest key with helping your child is helping yourself first. Much like when you are in the airplane and the flight attendant tells you to strap on the your oxygen mask before you help the child, you have to keep a grip on your sanity first before any help can come to your child.
Do this by taking deep breaths. Positive self talk is also important. Have a mantra to recite to yourself about how to stay calm. Figure out your mantra ahead of time and have it handy- I recommend having it written somewhere convenient so you don’t have to rely only on your brain to come up with the information in stressful times.
#2 Create a plan ahead of time.
Forewarned is forearmed. If you know that your child has issues with certain noises or around certain times of the day (such as bedtime or routine changes), think about how to handle this before the situation arises.
For example, if the trigger for your child is loud noises and other people, have a safe spot with low lights you know you can go to if needed. The meltdowns will occur in places you aren’t familiar with, but having a few tools in your tool box (such as below) ready will be a lifesaver.
#3 Know your child’s most soothing things
I used the general term “things” for a reason. You know what soothes your child better than anyone else. Use this to your advantage.
If your child prefers tactile calming methods, have a favorite blanket or cloth ready. It may be sounds (or lack there of) that help your child. Try headphones with music that soothes your child (it may not be your pick but whatever does the job) or noise-cancelling headphones.
I’m an adult and I know that I get triggered by noises I cannot control. My solution is noise-cancelling headphones on long trips or in hotel rooms.
Your job is to help your child with these soothing techniques as much as possible so that when he or she is my age, self-soothing will be easier and almost automatic.
#4 Encourage belly breathing
What is belly breathing? Watch this great video. I use it with my kids in therapy and give it to parents as a tool to use with their kids as well.
When a child has a meltdown, the body is going into the flight/fight/freeze mode, causing a disruption in normal breathing patterns. The pattern of breathing will be very shallow and fast, which sends message to the brain to freak out- things are bad. When belly breathing happens, the brain gets new messages- things are cool, we can calm down.
The end result of belly breathing is the improvement of the body’s ability to get a grip. This technique is one of my go-to tools in sessions and with parents because you can literally do it anywhere.
#5 Use words
The use of words may seem counter-intuitive when your child is having a meltdown. The picture in your head is likely one where your child is screaming, crying, throwing her body on the ground and you are trying to calm her down with words, right? Well, that’s not what I’m talking about at all. You likely know how that ends up (not good).
The use of words I’m talking about is allowing your child to create connections between the feelings in the body and the expression of emotion.
Your job is to help facilitate this. You can do this by talking to your child when he is not in a meltdown about the connection between what it feels like in his body and the word that goes with it.
For example, I had a 3 year-old once tell me he felt like he had crabs in his tummy. He was experiencing high levels of anxiety and did not know how to express it, which resulted in massive meltdowns and his mother throwing her hands in the air. Once we were able to make this connection for and with him, he was able to let his mother know when he felt the crabs and then she helped him with some his preferred soothing actions, such as the ones discussed above.
Using words to calm your child can be an excellent tool as well, since you can do it anywhere. When I became dysregulated as a child, I can remember my mother singing to me in a dark room to calm me. As an adult, I do deep breathing in a dimly-lit room to settle my senses.
There ya go- 5 ways to help your child and keep your sanity during a meltdown.
For parents or therapists of a dysregulated child, what are some of your tried and true methods for soothing a meltdown? Comment below to share!