What can I do if my child has a meltdown?

Meltdowns are an involuntary emotional response to sensory overload. They’re different from tantrums, which usually have a purpose, and are a response to not getting or being able to do what they want.

When having a meltdown, your child will be looking to you to help them regain control of their feelings.

A baby looking upset

Tips

  • Help your child find a safe space. They won’t be capable of listening, so don’t try to reason with them. Talking about what’s happened can come later, once they’ve calmed down.
  • If your child isn’t very overwrought, you could offer a distracting game, toy or task. At other times you may just need to ensure they’re safe, then let them release whatever they’re feeling.
  • Stay calm and close at hand during the meltdown. Some children like to have their back stroked. Others may not want to be touched, but need to know you’re close.
  • Having a meltdown can be exhausting. Let your child calm down before gently speaking to them and offering them some water or a healthy snack.

Coping skills

  • Get to know which situations trigger meltdowns. Then reduce or remove the triggers you can control. For example, avoid crowded markets and shop at quieter times.
  • Getting your child in the habit of talking about feelings can be a great help. So is letting your child see the positive ways you handle stressful emotions.
  • It can also help to pick a ‘frustration signal’ your child can use to show when they’re feeling overwhelmed. This gives you both time to move to a quiet space and run through a calm-down routine.
  • These routines can include deep breaths, clapping patterns, or counting to ten. It’s worth practising these while your child is feeling calm and secure.
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