There is a point of anger or anxiety that a child can reach, when calming techniques don’t work. This is when the child is in meltdown. There is a point of no return where the child’s brain and body is in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Reasoning with the child or trying to calm them down will not work as the “downstairs brain” is in primitive survival mode and the “upstairs (thinking) brain” is inhibited (see Upstairs, Downstairs‘). ‘Fight’ may manifest as aggression, verbal abuse, throwing things, kicking etc as the child tries to release the adrenalin and stress hormones in their bloodstream. ‘Flight’ is when the child runs off to their bedroom or engages in other escape behaviours. Your priority at this point should be the child’s safety. If they are safe it is best to leave them to calm down, as following them and trying to engage them may exacerbate the situation. Never take anything they say personally when the child is in this frame of mind.
So how do we know if a child is in meltdown or just having a tantrum? Easy, ASD expert Sue Larkey says. bribery doesn’t work. If you were frightened of mice and a mouse was next to your kitchen sink, would bribery make you walk up to the mouse?
When your child is calm you can talk to them about the trigger (although they may not know why it happened. It could be cumulative effect of many things), and about ways they can deal with their anger and anxiety in the future, as well as strategies they can use.
Learn to recognise the child’s triggers and early warning signs. These are very individual and different for every child. Redirect them before the point of no return and teach them ways to recognise their own early signs and methods they can use to self-soothe.
When a person is stressed, they often “revert to habits”, so teach them good habits for dealing with their low level anxiety or frustration and they will eventually learn to do this automatically before they reach the point of no return.
- Upstairs, Downstairs (engagekids.wordpress.com)
- Emotional Processing and Regulation
- 8 Signs It’s Not A Discipline Problem – Is it just tantrums or a developmental disorder? (babble.com)