My name is Penny Williams, and I am a parenting coach for neurodiverse families. And I'm here to help you know what to do during a meltdown. I have five steps for you. I want to first start by talking about what is a meltdown? How is it different from a tantrum.
Tantrum is willful, intentional behavior to get a desired outcome. Maybe it is a piece of candy in the checkout aisle at the grocery store, your child really wants it, you say no, they start with that willful and intentional behavior, to try to get that desired outcome to get you to say, okay, and you buy them that piece of candy.
If your child has gone sort of over the cliff into meltdown, they have no control over that behavior anymore. If you offer to buy that piece of candy and give it to them, they cannot stop the behavior, because they are no longer in control of their body and their brain, essentially, their emotional brain and their survival brain have taken over. And their thinking brain has gone offline. That means you can't offer that outcome and have it stop, you cannot provide for them. Any sort of talking through it rationalizing, none of that stuff is going to work because the thinking brain has gone offline.
Here is what you can do, to have the most desired outcome to shorten that meltdown as much as possible. But understand going into it that your child's brain just has to finish cycling through that and has to recover. They've been in extreme dysregulation, their system has been completely out of whack. And so they have to have the time to get through it and to recover.
Stay calm. You have to be a calm anchor for your child. We human beings are wired to respond in kind, when we are yelled at. We are wired to yell back it is a protective mechanism. But you have to override that. Because you need to model for your child, you need to put the energy out for your child that you want them to replicate and match. And that is calm.
Validate and show empathy, help your child feel seen, heard and understood. "I see that you're really frustrated." "I'm so sorry that this has happened." "I really feel for you." Right, you're validating you're showing empathy, you're making them feel. Okay, almost. You're not criticizing, judging, punishing, none of those things are going to be effective or helpful at all during a meltdown. So you're validating, showing empathy, you're staying calm.
Respond and not react. And this goes along with staying calm. Don't be reactive. Stay calm, be that calm, react and respond with intention, I want you to just take a deep breath, before you respond when your child is in a meltdown. It helps for you to regulate, and again, it is giving your child something to mirror to help them as well.
Stop talking. Stop talking, do not talk, you validate you empathize, and then you're a calm presence. That's it. The more you talk, the more overwhelmed your child gets. Because again, that thinking brain is offline. And they cannot use it to process what you're saying to respond to what you're saying. All the rationalizing in the world isn't going to help. You just need to stop talking.
Honor what your child needs. Your child may need you to stay in the room with them to know that they are still loved and accepted. Or they may need to be completely alone to really recover. And if that's the case, it's okay to let them know that you are honoring that they want to be alone and that you're there if they need you to come and get you and ask for help. That way your child does not feel abandoned. They don't feel like you're rejecting them by just walking away. You need to explain to them that you're doing it because that is what you know that they need. Honor what your child needs your individual child because they're all different.
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