Reader Question: How Do I Stop My Child’s Meltdowns

Reader Question of the Week
What do you do when your child has meltdowns that disrupt the whole household?

Every Monday I like to try to answer a reader’s question, and this week we’re going to look at meltdowns in children. I’ve written before on how to handle temper tantrums in toddlers, but this is a little different because this reader’s child is older. She writes:

I have read a couple of your articles but wondered how you would approach meltdowns when things are simply not playing out how my daughter had envisioned. She is 5. For example, she had been wearing a particular t-shirt all day and it had gotten really dirty. Grandparents were coming over for dinner and we decided to bathe the kids before they arrived. I threw her t-shirt in the hamper on top of some already wet clothes. The problem started here because my kids normally put their own clothes in the hamper and so it may have been an indicator to me that she planned on putting the t-shirt back on. Anyway when it came to get dressed the t-shirt was not an option. (I am normally quite lenient when it comes to my kids picking their clothes) There was moaning and rolling on the bed. I tried to identify with her disappointment, identify what exactly about the t-shirt she liked – there may be one similar etc. but then also have her understand she needed to push though and choose another t-shirt. My question is – what is my goal? Ideally I’d like her to name the disappointment – help her figure out what she needs to press through it and move on. I know she is young but I feel that ‘coaching’ in the early years will make her able to coach herself later. Any thoughts? I should also add that these meltdowns–the moaning episodes and sobbing–can completely break the peace in our home and I want her to acknowledge this, too. Perhaps you have written on this?

I can picture what that’s like, because my oldest daughter used to find it difficult to control her emotions, too, though perhaps not to this extent. It does totally wreck your household, and it is absolutely infuriating and exhausting. So what do you do?

To Love, Honor and VacuumThis is launch week for the second edition of my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum, and I thought this was an excellent question to start with, because the premise of that book is quite simple: too many women feel like maids rather than wives and mothers because we’re always working FOR people who take us for granted, rather than working WITH people to create a fun and nurturing home environment that points to Jesus. This mom sounds exactly like the kind of moms I’m talking to: you want to do a good job and raise great kids, but there are times that you just don’t like your kids that much and when you’re absolutely fed up.

Here are some thoughts on handling meltdowns in kids:

1. You cannot reason with a child in a full-blown meltdown

This woman is asking how to help her name what she’s feeling and thus help to work through the disappointment in a healthy way. I understand the desire to do this, but I don’t think it will work when the child is in the midst of throwing herself on the ground and screaming and sobbing. She isn’t thinking clearly, and trying to talk to her will likely escalate everything. You’ll get frustrated, she’ll get more mad at you because you’re giving her attention without giving her what she wants, and it will all get louder and give you a migraine.

2. Stop giving the child any attention

Tantrums are caused essentially by a combination of two things: kids can’t control their emotions and their emotions overwhelm them, and they get attention. That combination is so dangerous, because it can mean that the more that you acknowledge the tantrum or pay attention to it, the more tantrums they have.

How to stop your children's meltdowns (and bring peace to your home again!)
Some children DO have an issue controlling negative emotions, and they do need to be coached through it. However, that coaching can’t be done at the time, and often being taught that tantrums are not acceptable is the first step. If they learn that they can’t just scream and cry when they’re upset, then, and only then, can they learn alternative things to do.

So I’d do this: if she starts to cry and flail and scream, pick her up and remove her from other family members. Put her in the bedroom and say, “I see that you’re upset, but the rest of us don’t want to hear this. When you’re calmed down you can come out again.” And then shut the door. Another option is to leave her where she is and then tell other family members, “Jane is being loud and rude, so let’s go somewhere else that’s quiet until she calms down.”

This doesn’t need to be said loudly or with a mean tone, but you need to give this impression:

What you are doing is NOT acceptable, and absolutely NO ONE will pay any attention to you while you do this.

If you are at a party and she does this, you either leave or you pick her up and put her in the backyard or the car until she calms down. You can even stand outside the car while she screams. If you’re in a store, same deal. Be absolutely unwavering in this: you cannot scream in public.

Then, when she is finished, tell her she should apologize to you and her siblings for creating a scene. (I don’t force apologies because I think they should come from the heart if we’re to teach real repentance, but I would seriously recommend that she apologize, and I would require her to acknowledge that she hurt the peace in the house.)

3. Make sure there is not an underlying issue

One caveat: meltdowns are a common feature of many conditions like autism or Asperger’s, because children just can’t process things not going the way they thought they were supposed to. Children need absolute order for the world to feel safe, and if the order is broken in some way, they don’t know how to handle it. It may be a good idea to see a physician to make sure there isn’t some sort of processing disorder going on.

4. AT A DIFFERENT TIME, coach your child on how to work through difficult emotions

When your child is calm, that is the time to help coach them on how to handle disappointment. Talk to them about identifying what they’re mad about, and about taking deep breaths, and about saying, “I’m sad” rather than screaming. Teach her to pray and say, “Jesus, help me to not be so mad.”

But I don’t think this can be done at the time well, and it is such an important skill to learn how to self-soothe (to talk yourself down from a tantrum). Making children do this isn’t being mean to them; it’s forcing them to learn to act appropriately, and actually is giving them control over their emotions. They have to calm themselves down, which means that they have to get control of the anger.

5. Be careful of letting your child set the tone for your house

To me, this is perhaps the most important and also most forgotten point. It is YOUR home. Your children should live by your rules. You have the right to enjoy being at home, and I’m afraid that all too many parents don’t enjoy it at all. I remember a couple I knew when my oldest daughter was 6 who had their 6-year-old in six (!) different after school activities–one for every night of the week, and one on Saturdays. And the reason? When their daughter was at home she was a terror, so they tried to keep her busy out of the house as much as possible to wear her out so that she wouldn’t have meltdowns.

But they were wearing themselves out, too!

We need to get back to the idea that adults have the right to expect certain behaviour from their children. You shouldn’t dread coming home. You shouldn’t dread having hours with the kids alone. You should be able to laugh at the kids, not mentally prepare the day so that nothing will happen that will set your child off.

This is your role. Your children should not hijack it, so don’t let them. You don’t have to apologize for wanting your life back. You don’t have to feel guilty for saying, “I can’t handle when my child is acting like this, so I’m just going to disengage when they do.”

Your child is acting inappropriately, and you have the right to expect them to act otherwise. You really do.

Now go, and set the tone yourself. Don’t let your child do it for  you!

In To Love, Honor and Vacuum I talk a ton about how we’ve gotten mixed up about what our role is at home, and we women often wear ourselves out while everyone else has a relatively easy life. If you’re having trouble creating a good tone in your home, pick up To Love, Honor and Vacuum today!

And please stop by my Facebook Page tonight at 8 p.m. EST for a special announcement!

Comments

  1. We have raised four children. None of them have autism or Aspergers so what I am going to say doesn’t apply to them. Each of our children had one meltdown around 2 years old. We spanked them when they had their first temper tantrum. We never wanted our children to have tantrums so we dealt with it the first time we saw it in any of our children and it was their first and last tantrum. “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” We took the bible literally about using a rod. We never disciplined them in anger and it was always on the bottom. A little pain was a quick and easy solution for us. Whenever they disobeyed us and their first meltdown where the only times we spanked them. We wanted obedient children who could control their tempers and even learn to control their emotions. We have four grown children who never rebelled and never have temper tantrums, except the first one. I know you don’t agree with me, Sheila, but it worked great for us! They are all walking with Jesus now. I know your daughters are also so your method sounds like it works also. Each couple must decide, prayerfully, how to raise their children and what works best for them.
    Lori Alexander recently posted…Are You A Garden Of Beauty?My Profile

  2. My 2-1/2 year old was born emotional. If we let her go, she would have regular meltdowns about anything she doesn’t like. But we’ve been training her that emotional outbursts are not acceptable since before she was a year old. My husband is especially good at getting her attention (his deep voice does that so much better than mine) and making her stop. Depending on the situation, we sometimes put her in her room, stand her in the corner and ignore her, or occasionally spank her to get her attention when she refuses to obey during an episode. When she fusses about nothing we fuss right back at her by telling her not to whine. Since she gets plenty of good attention when she is acting well and being pleasant, knowing that we are not pleased with her and will ignore or punish her when she throws fits makes her want to stop.

    She also has NEVER gotten what she wants when is screaming for it. Never. If she’s screaming for it, that’s a sure sign that she won’t get it. She only ever gets disapproval for screaming. She’s smart enough to figure out that she is much more likely to get what she wants by asking nicely.

    The trick is to be consistent. You can’t let a child get by with it for years before deciding to make it stop and expect it to be easy. You can’t give her what she wants sometimes to get the screaming to stop and expect her to stop throwing fits. Throwing fits and having meltdowns must only result in unpleasant things if you want them to stop.

    As a result of being consistent, our daughter, at 2-1/2, is very well-behaved and pleasant about 99% of the time. She does occasionally have outbursts, but they are short-lived. She is learning to control herself better and better all the time and she is much happier as a result.
    Lindsay Harold recently posted…A Conversation with a Skeptic on the Existence of JesusMy Profile

    • Lindsay, I think your last sentence is SO important. Your daughter is much happier. I think parents forget that kids are happier when they have their emotions in check. If we give in to their meltdowns, they never learn to control their emotions, and life becomes very unpredictable and insecure. Our kids are actually happier when we set firm boundaries! Such a good point.

      • Yes, children who have control of their emotions are much happier. It’s not just that they are more pleasant to be around, but they enjoy life more too. I can compare my child to my youngest sister, who has pretty much the same temperament, but has been a little spoiled (being the baby and all). My daughter is a very happy child while my sister though not horrible, is far less happy because she isn’t in control of her emotions.
        Lindsay Harold recently posted…A Conversation with a Skeptic on the Existence of JesusMy Profile

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have a 9 year old daughter with a raging temper and it has reached the point now where yes, she does set the tone for the whole house, practically every day, and I’ve become so depressed and discouraged. Summer holidays are tough because now it’s all day, not just before and after school. And even when she calms down she still can’t be reasoned with because she blameshifts everything and plays the victim card. She will deny all wrongdoing to the point of absurdity. She is an intelligent, bright child and this denial of poor behavior can only be wilful blindness on her part. But here’s the problem. Her father has an explosive temper too, just as his parents did, and probably their parents as well. So, how do you teach your children self-control when they keep getting the opposite message from their dad? It’s extremely frustrating and counter-productive.

    • That’s a really tough one. The main thing, I think, is not to get into a power struggle. Just have simple and immediate consequences. You were planning on going to the beach and she had a tantrum? Get a baby-sitter on standby to watch her while you take the other kids (or have a friend take your kids to the beach while you stay home with her). She’s whiny and has a tantrum at home? She sits in her room with no devices or TV for the rest of the morning and has to read a book. Just make sure that the consequences are easier FOR YOU. That way the consequences are easy to give and even helpful to give (if she’s driving you nuts, she has to separate herself from the family).

      And then when she is with the family, make it super fun. “Catch” her doing good things and reward her for it. Praise her for everything kind she does or for every time she makes you laugh and give her a big hug. Let her see that one type of behaviour is better than another.

      And if your husband is willing, have him talk to her and say that what she’s doing isn’t acceptable. But I don’t know if she is.

      Getting into a power struggle or a long conversation with her won’t help if she’s blaming others. But simply having consequences where it’s “your life is worse if you do this, whereas mine is better if I send you to your room, so it makes no difference to me” that you enforce consistently should help. But it is a hard struggle. And it often takes a lot of effort. But if you put in that effort all in a row–like say you take a month to crack down hard every time she does it–you set yourself up for a much easier school year.

      As for the issue with dad, some kids do have a bad example, and that’s tough. But it really doesn’t change how you should treat it. And perhaps her behaviour is an opportunity to speak to your husband about his own?

      I hope that helps!

    • Sarah D. says:

      What a difficult situation you’re dealing with. I think I can understand to some degree. A therapist once told me to create a safe room in our house so the family could hide when my son was violently tantruming. If I may, I suggest that you take a look at a program called “The Total Transformation Program” by James Lehman. Even if you choose not to purchase their program, they have an online parent newsletter you can sign up for that provides wonderful help for children such as ours. I highly endorse the program because it worked miracles for our son. I don’t make a penny off suggesting it to you.

  4. Sarah D, says:

    As the mother of a three children, one with Asperger’s Syndrome, I will speak to handling this with the 8-year-old Aspie. The reality is, regardless of diagnosis—ODD, ADHD, etc.—the only time people get a pass in life is when they are kids. I knew we had to help him learn to control his behavior or he was going to be in for a world of hurt when he got older. When beginning to tantrum, he doesn’t respond to verbal correction; it simply amplifies any situation and encourages argument. Spankings do not work for him. When he has tantrums, we have set a rule that he must move to his room. If he doesn’t move to his room, we leave whatever room he is in as interactions with others fuel the tantrum. Once his tantrum is over and he is calmed down, I calmly present him with a written list of things to do to earn back privileges. The list could include: write notes of apology to those he’s wronged, make amends with those he’s wronged, household chores, spending xxx amount of time in his room to demonstrate that he can go to his room when asked, say “I was wrong to…”, clean up any messes he made, tell me what he will do differently next time, go xxx days without a tantrum, etc. His privileges are lost for a set amount of time (usually 1-3 days, depending on the tantrum) and until his list is complete. We aren’t teaching him to do time; we are teaching him to take time to make things as right as he can. This system of discipline has done amazing things for our son; he rarely throws a tantrum any more, and when he does they are far milder than they were a year or so ago. I based my discipline system on a program called “The Total Transformation Program” by James Lehman. This material is written for adolescents/teens, so I modified it to work for a younger Aspergian child.

    • Thank you so much for this Sarah! I’m always reluctant to comment on Asperger’s/Autism spectrum stuff because I don’t deal with it, so I appreciate this so much. You’re right–they only get a pass when they’re kids, so they do need to learn to control it. Thanks!

      • Sarah D. says:

        The Autism spectrum is very broad, so it is impossible to pinpoint one specific discipline system that will be effective for all children. I do know, however, that a lot of research has gone into changing the behavior of children with Asperger’s. Hands down, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) wins. The discipline system I use for my son qualifies as CBT. Individuals higher on the autism spectrum might truly not understand the effects of “poor” behavior. In every case, parents must determine the abilities and needs of their child, then tailor discipline appropriate for that child’s needs and goals.

  5. happywife says:

    Sheila,
    I agree with everything you’ve said here. I would also like to add though that if you have a child prone to outbursts and meltdowns it might be beneficial to assess if these meltdowns tend to happen when the child is hungry, tired or over stimulated. We can’t always control these things, but some kids need more consistency with schedules and mealtimes than others. Perhaps the child is an introvert (needs quiet/home time to recharge) and they’ve been dragged all over town for the past 3 days. Perhaps lunch was 4 hours ago and it’s time for a protein rich snack. I know that I need to feed myself regularly or I tend to get a bit cranky… a 5 year old doesn’t know that about herself. Children need consistent bedtimes and a good 10 hours of sleep each night (or more). Perhaps it’s as simple as making sure they are in bed every night by 8 and having an apple with peanut butter as an afternoon snack.

    • So true! I made that point in my earlier post about temper tantrums, too. We should always discipline for heart issues, but not environmental issues over which the child has no control. And sometimes getting a better handle on schedules for eating and sleeping can stop a lot of these issues!

  6. It is so difficult to get a true picture from an excerpt from a letter, and so easy to rush to snap judgement. However, by 5 years old, a child should have enough self control to not throw a tantrum because he doesn’t get his way. Upset? Fine. Sad? Fine. Angry? Fine. Out of control? Not. Okay. In the middle of a temper tantrum is not the time to “work with” your child. Nor can you reason during this time. Mom and Dad must take CALMLY take control of the situation and make the temper tantrum so counter productive that child won’t do it again. In this situation, I would have told my child, “No. You cannot wear the dirty t-shirt. Because you threw a tantrum, I will choose your clothes for you.” I would have proceeded to choose something that the child wouldn’t have. Take it a step further, and choose the child’s clothes for a week. Having emotions is normal. Loosing control, which is what a temper tantrum is, is not acceptable for adults. Remember, we are raising adults. Not children.

    As for Anonymous, with the Raging Temper 9 year old and the Explosive Temper father. Yes. Immediate consequences for daughter. But I’m far more concerned with explosive temper father. Is this reaching the level of verbal or physical abuse? If not now, is that where it is headed? Yes, she needs to be dealt with, but so does this father. This isn’t a healthy relationship.

    • Katie, yes, I’d agree–especially about Anonymous. I don’t think the issue with the 9-year-old will fully get better until the dynamics in the household are dealt with. Maybe this is time to seek some outside help–like a pastor or a mentor couple or a counsellor who can help the husband deal with the anger.

      • Anonymous says:

        He has met with our pastor twice since February to get help for anger management. He has greatly improved thankfully, but there are still setbacks from time to time.

        • That’s great that he’s meeting with your pastor! That’s a great first step. If he’s willing to talk about it then he’s being humble about it, and when we’re humbled, God can really work.

  7. This was a timely post for me to read. My oldest daughter, who is 7, frequently has meltdowns and it is such a needed reminder that I can’t help her when she’s so upset. She does have a language disorder and some other issues so I know that she gets so overwhelmed by the emotions.
    Erica recently posted…Back From Wherever I WasMy Profile

  8. My husband and I have been fortunate to parent three daughters who were very well behaved in public and for the vast part of their childhoods (around 98-99%), free of meltdowns. Our first daughter began showing her temper at around 11-12 months of age. She would angrily throw herself to the floor when she didn’t like being told, “No” She did this once while we were shopping (on carpet, thankfully) and once at home where she hit her head on the edge of the coffee table. Naturally, I wanted to put a stop to this behavior ASAP because I was afraid that she’d injure herself. One day, she was standing by the coffee table and became angry with me again and started to flail, but an interesting thing happened. I could almost watch the wheels turning in her brain as she remembered the last time she had hit her head so she slowly fell to her knees and was careful how she placed her head on the floor. Then she looked at me and cried for all she was worth. It was all about trying to manipulate me and get my attention (at 11-12 months of age!) and when I didn’t reward her efforts, she never did it again.

    I very much agree with you that a child in full meltdown mode cannot be reasoned with and their moods cannot be allowed to rule the roost. If I knew my kids were beginning to get tired or hungry, I’d try to act preemptively, lol. It really made a difference in their behavior. It was also important to let them see the consequences of their actions and stick to whatever I said I was going to do (time out, leave that restaurant or movie, not buy that certain toy, etc.) even when I really didn’t want to. BTW, while I did use corporal discipline with the first two, I also used the distraction method a lot when they were young. It worked especially well. My youngest child is quite a bit younger and was rarely spanked. I found that it took more effort, however, we bonded especially well although I think part of that may have been due to the older two sisters being so close in age. Now at 16, she can be emotional at times yet she’s respectful, grateful and quick to apologize.

    Parenthood is not for the faint of heart, is it? As much as I’ve loved it, I’m looking forward to helping my youngest on her way in life. That and grandchildren — one day! :-)

    • Elizabeth says:

      That is too funny about your daughter remembering to not hurt herself at the beginning of her tantrum. My daughter (now 2 yrs. old) did the same thing! She would GENTLY drop down to her hands and knees, and then roll over onto her back, and fake cry. Fortunately for me it was hilarious and I guess when I laughed at her, she figured out she was being silly and got up sheepishly. :) I’ve never heard of another little kid doing that before.

      Earlier today she actually threw a tantrum of epic proportions because she got in trouble for telling me “no!” to a direct command. And now all day she’s been the fussiest thing. It’s a hard line to draw… I want her to learn to do the right thing in spite of her emotions (toddlers who are mad don’t really hurt anyone except for themselves… but adults who are mad are dangerous), but I also don’t want to be too hard on her. =/

      • Yep, these children of ours can be wily even as toddlers. To be honest, I couldn’t laugh at my daughter’s antics when they happened because my mouth was slack. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing yet I knew I couldn’t react in a way that would reinforce the behavior. I have laughed many times after the fact, however.

        I can relate to parenting a two year old and the exhaustion felt at the end of the day. At the time, I felt overloaded, frustrated and had little patience left at bedtime. As I mentioned earlier, small children can’t always be reasoned with so my advice is to roll with it. I’ve already begun telling my girls that the most important thing they’ll need to teach their toddlers/preschoolers one day is to come promptly when called because it could very well save their lives at some point. Everything else is a gradual process.

        For you, this too shall pass all too quickly so enjoy it!

  9. Anonymous says:

    I fine this to be a very intriguing topic because I used to teach first grade and I dealt wih this all the time on a classroom level. I realize that is very different from the home/parenting level, but I remember a few things that worked for us.
    I soon realized that meltdowns were inevitable. They happened to any child, and at almost any time, and over almost anything. Even the mature children could meltdown over simple things. Our object is not to prevent meltdowns, because they are often unpredictable, but rather to deal with them. Accept that they are not your fault, unless of course you provoked the child, in which case you are in the wrong. Accepting that meltdowns simply happened and were no fault of mine helped me.
    I felt like forcing a child to quit their crying and suppress their emotions was not always the right thing. I often ended up setting a timer and saying “You may cry quietly for 2 minutes. When the timer rings, bring it to me and dry your tears and return to work.” After the timer rang and if they kept crying, then I could and would punish them. I felt like that could help teach them emotional control.
    Talking about emotions during times when the child is happy is very beneficial.

  10. First, HANG IN THERE. I won’t name names, but one of mine was much more overblown and dramatic in his responses than the other two. I’ve been there

    First, as others have said, having a stable eating/sleeping routine makes a big difference. Kids are much more likely to melt down if they’re tired or hungry or over-stimulated. But that doesn’t seem to be the case in the example, so I’m going with the assumption that this is a regular kid, in regular situations.

    My personal opinions – just mine – is that there’s way too much psychologizing of kids’ misbehavior. Doesn’t mean their feelings don’t matter, but that it’s much simpler and more direct to focus on the behavior. When mine threw a tantrum (and I wish I could say he only tried it once, but it wasn’t that easy!) we restrained him if he was physical, removed him from public view if necessary, and disciplined him. Throwing a fit needs to be associated with consequences that are consistent and (from the child’s perspective) calamitous – completely unrewarding in every way. And, as Sheila said, there needs to be some sort of apology. “I’m sorry – it was wrong of me to fuss and yell.”

    I suspect that the well-meaning mother in the example is unintentionally encouraging the daughter’s tantrums by trying too hard to compensate (find a similar shirt, etc.). The child doesn’t have enough self-control, so she’s trying to control everyone else. Don’t let her.
    Julie recently posted…When The Thermometer Says 90…My Profile

  11. “1. You cannot reason with a child in a full blown meltdown.”

    Yes yes yes and YES. When dealing with a child in meltdown mode, it usually goes better for the parent when we keep communication and interaction simple and minimal. One reason children often continue to throw fits year after year is because it gets them attention and gives them control. When we take away the attention and take back the control, children will often stop throwing fits simply because it has ceased to be effective for them.

    For example, an alternate way of dealing with your daughter’s fit about the shirt may have been to calmly say “I am sorry you are upset about your shirt and I am happy to talk about it when you are calm again.” And then walk away and close the bedroom door. You have effectively taken back control and removed attention from the fit. Maybe she’ll stay in her room for an hour throwing a fit, but that is now HER choice, not yours. And I bet she’ll figure out pretty quick throwing fits is no longer serving her purposes. At five years old, she is old enough to learn this lesson.

    I know it can be hard for parents who aren’t accustomed to this method. Your child may scream and cry for you and it can be heartbreaking and really wear you down. But it is important to tell yourself, they are not injured, they are not sick, they are not in danger. They are manipulating you. They are accustomed to having all the control and all the attention when they throw a fit and they’re just plain mad and trying to figure out how to get back to the old way of doing things. For me, during years and years of babysitting and now with my own children, this is hands-down the most effective way I have found of dealing with tantrums.

  12. Meredith says:

    Something to think about if the meltdowns continue past toddlerhood: One of my children occasionally had public “meltdowns” way past the age of the usual tantrums. These often happened on family outings or vacations (amusement parks were the worst) and we thought she was suffering from low blood sugar, the heat, or exhaustion.

    Flash forward about eight years: She has a social anxiety disorder and these tantrums were panic attacks! Realizing this was like everything suddenly coming into focus. My early fixes for her “low blood sugar” or “exhaustion” worked because I looked for a cool, quiet place for her to compose herself, with no one trying to cajole her into riding a roller coaster that scared her or make her fight her way through loud and pushy crowds. Knowing this now helps her deal with the beginnings of the panic and short-circuit a full-blown attack.

  13. My daughter’s only 11 months old, so we’re not really dealing with this yet, but I find the advice and comments helpful. I still find I get overwhelmed by my emotions more often than I’d like so I know I’ll need someone else’s advice to try to help her not have the same problem!

  14. Our son has just turned 6 and he has meltdowns almost every day. I am at times afraid of him. He’s in play therapy and is enjoying it, we are due for a feedback session. We have also been in the process of getting him educationally assessed as he starts grade 1 in January.
    My question – when you put the child in another room, say his bedroom, and leave him to work his anger out, and he gets even more enraged – what do you do then? He gets destructive, he kicks the door, screams through the doorjamb for us to let him out, trashes everything that is neat and ordered etc etc. And he can go on for up to an hour like that.

    So far we have found deep pressure hugging, quietly away from everyone else(mostly our bed) has helped somewhat. He’s bright, but has some developmental delays, so he gets very frustrated very easily, mostly at himself. I have found talking calmly and hugging tightly helps, but I am exhausted after this – it too can take an hour or longer some days. Some days he falls asleep. I realistically don’t have the time to do this a few times every day! Is this also a form of encouraging the behavior by giving it attention? I get that it’s not helpful if I am emotionally exhausted after one of these meltdowns, so something needs to change. We are consistent with our discipline, his older brother is polite and caring and hasn’t given us this treatment(the 6 year old has spat in our faces, yelled at us to not walk away while he’s talking etc etc – he has a very arrogant attitude, esp towards authority)
    He goes to bed at a decent hour, has a very consistent routine, eats healthily, plays hard, is loved and cuddled often, and treated fairly, so I don’t feel we’ve dropped the ball in meeting his basic needs in this regard. We do spank, we withdraw privileges, we’ve tried star charts to reward good choices, but nothing seems to have a long term positive effect!!!
    Help!

  15. I have used the shut the door and leave the room tactic with my older kids. I still do it with the younger kids at times, but I’m also learning that sometimes they need help to calm down. Sometimes I need help calming down as an adult. It’s hard to always discern whether it’s an environmental issue, a power play, or an out of control moment. I have one child with Tourette’s and he still has trouble calming down sometimes and needs help. I’ll often now ask the child in a meltdown if they want to thrive a fit in their room or if they want help to calm down. I also recently attended a conference about helping children who have had traumatic experiences (we are fostering now) and how to help them through the meltdowns. In children who have experienced trauma, the meltdown is often not due to disobedience but because of a trigger to the trauma. Im just glad in all these meltdowns that we have access to the one who created them and knows them well.

  16. I highly recommend the book “The Explosive Child” by Ross Greene. Our now 9-year old has always been what the book describes as “inflexible-explosive”. That is, she lacks mental flexibility, and when things don’t go as she expects, the frustration leads to explosive behaviour. For years I told myself that it was normal, and if I just gave her enough structure and consequences and such that she would learn and outgrow it. Around age 8, I finally admitted to myself that there was a deeper problem and sought help, as she was beginning to self-harm in her meltdowns. She is now in therapy and the psychologist recommended this book. I had already read it, but re-reading and applying it in conjunction with the therapy has helped tremendously. I have had to acknowledge that she will always be like this, and the best that I can do for her is accept her as she is and give her the skills to handle her overwhelming frustration so that she can function in this chaotic world.

    For those saying that kids having meltdowns just need structure, that may be true in the case of ordinary kids (and is why it worked for you), but in some kids there is a more deep-seated problem. Structure is part of the answer but it isn’t enough by itself.

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