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

How you can help

  • 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 upset, 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 10. It’s worth practising these while your child is feeling calm and secure.

If your child has autism, some of the ways to manage a meltdown may be different. Read our advice on autistic meltdowns. 

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