Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What to do with a Public Meltdown

All the lunch-goers at Faneuil Hall in Boston probably expected a peaceful lunch while people watching from their cafe tables.  Instead they got Liam in total melt-down mode for about as long as it takes to order drinks and your meal, then to have the chef prepare your burger and fries and for you to consume all of it.  I should have seen the melt-down coming, Liam had the right forecast-- barely any sleep the night before, it was lunch time, and we were in Boston, three hours from our house.  But the sunshine and seventy degree weather blinded my perspective.

For 45 minutes I sat with Liam on a bench while he tried to stop screaming, "I want new, green Crocs."  I wished he would stop screaming, kicking, and hitting, but hoping and crossing all my toes and fingers did not seem to help.  So, I pulled-out my parenting toolbox right-on one of the busiest spots in Boston and went to work.

Even though I am writing about Liam, who is typically developing, kids are kids first before any diagnosis (like autism) and all kids have tantrums and sometimes they have meltdowns.  Tantrum vs. meltdown:  I think of tantrums as a power struggle (I want this toy and you will buy it or I will scream) and meltdowns are a complete loss of control.  There is no reasoning or distracting, the meltdown just has to run its course.   I bet most of these melt-downs happen in the public eye.  

As a parent you probably know what triggered the meltdown-- a sound, plummeting blood sugar levels, lack of sleep, a sensory overload, or all of the above.  So, what do you do in the middle of a busy tourist destination with a screaming, kicking kid?
  • First, check-in with yourself-- are you calm?  Have you lowered your voice?  Are you remembering to breath slowly?  Allow yourself to pause and not be in a rush.
  • Second, forget about the on-lookers!  Either they are empathic (I have been there with my child) or annoyed and probably have never raised children.  Focus on your kid, remember this can be a teachable moment (self regulation).
  • Third, find a quiet, empty space for your child to sit and place him there. 
  • Tell him why he is being place in the spot (I use the same language as at home-- break spot or time-out spot).  Remember to keep your language simple and clear, like "Liam, you can get up when stop crying, kicking, and hitting."
  • If your child gets up or tries to make break-for-it set him back down in the "break" spot without any words.  And keep doing it, don't break and give into the meltdown... you have come so far, don't give-up now.  Remember you are teaching emotional regulation, once your child calms then you can move-on.
  • Now this is the hard part, you need to WAIT until they can get themselves together and out of meltdown mode.
  • Finally, when all is calm (or at least somewhat reasonable) hug and move-on to getting sleep, food, or a less busy environment.
We all have our moments when life gets to overwhelming and we break, however most adults have learned strategies to cope with their own meltdowns and that is what children need to practice.  Think of meltdowns as practice in emotional regulation and the more your child practices the better they will be in control of themselves.  

No comments: