What Can You Do To Help Once A Meltdown Has Started?

What Can You Do To Help Once A Meltdown Has Started?

In ideal world, we would minimise triggers to the point where they have no effect, have children who knew how to self regulate their behaviours, and live lives that were calm and tranquil.

We do not however live in an ideal world, we live in the real one. No matter how brilliant you are at parenting or teaching, the reality is that not meltdowns are preventable. Not all are in our control.

What is in our control however, is how we react to them.

So once a meltdown is in full swing what should you do?

Keep verbal input to a minimum.

Once someone is in meltdown mode they will find it extremely difficult to process verbal language. Instead they will more threatened and anxious by the words coming at them which they can’t comprehend or reply to. Instead sit quietly and calmly. Visual choice cards can be helpful to some young people. These don’t need to be professional and can be written quickly on pieces of paper. Choices like, ‘Stay calmly in living room’ or ‘Go into bedroom and shout’ or ‘Stay at the party’ or ‘Go home’ work best. Keep language clear and limit the number of words.

Don’t try to reason

There is research to show that when we are in crisis mode, the human brain uses less than 10% of its full power. This means that the capacity of a young person to use reason during a meltdown is severely diminished. If a young person wants to talk sit and listen, comfort them. If they complain that you have done something or made them feel a certain way comments like ‘I’m sorry I made you feel that way’, ‘I really want to talk to you about that when you’re feeling calmer’ and ‘how can I help you to feel better’ will show the young person that you are listening and validating their feelings without expecting them to understand your side of the story at this point.

Once they are totally calm, that is the time you can explain your side of the sorry and quietly correct any inaccuracies. Doing this during the meltdown will only serve to inflame the situation further.

Offer a safe space

During a meltdown most young people operate a fight or flight response. So it’s important that you give them a safe place they can go to. Somewhere they are allowed to be angry and even swear or lash out at cushions etc if needed they are far less likely to become aggressive towards people or equipment. If a young person has nowhere to go and is trapped in the place that they feel is causing the meltdown, the only choice we are leaving them with is the fight response.

If you don’t have a spare room that can be used, a child’s tent filled with a duvet and cushions can be a possible solution for some.

Sanctions are for later.

If destructive or aggressive behaviour occurs during a meltdown, during the meltdown is not the time to discuss these.

I am a firm believer in both rewards and consequences. In real life both are given. But they  need to be dealt with and discussed during times of calm not during times of crisis. Discussing the, during the meltdown will only serve to inflame the situation further.

Once the young person is fully calm after the event, they can be asked about what happened and decisions about consequences can then occur.

Offer a pen and paper.

Some young people feel as though they need to discuss things during a meltdown, others completely shut down. If it is safe to do so offering a pen and paper for them to record their thoughts can help them to process what they are feeling in a non-confrontational way. Some young people will choose to destroy what they have written, others will use it as a way of having a more controlled to and fro conversation with those around them at a time when they know they would struggle to process a verbal conversation.

What Next?

If you do want to learn more you might find our Victoria’s Book a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.

Or if you’re looking for more personal support, why not check out our Consultancy Services.

If you join our tribe at the bottom of the post, you’ll receive a weekly email containing autism strategies and resources straight to your inbox.

And of course if I can be of any help then please just shout (or drop me an email).


8 thoughts on “What Can You Do To Help Once A Meltdown Has Started?

  1. Thanks for the tips. A meltdown is hard for everyone and knowing what to do can be hard. Our small likes to be squeezed really tight with his arms tucked in.

  2. Really good advice here – thank you. There was never any point in trying to reason with my son when he was in meltdown – it always worked better to wait and talk things through when all was calmer. I really do think that it is important to find time to talk rather than just avoid bringing up difficult topics with our children. I know I used to find it hard to stay calm myself when my son got angry in public. When I was flustered and embarrassed it didn’t help though – learning to stay calm was important. #spectrumsunday

    1. It really can be so much harder in practice than in theory. I am definitely still a work in progress with my mum head on xx

  3. Mmm helpful to a point BUT for some children the fight response is so extreme isn’t it. This will work for the low to medium level meltdowns and great for prevention. The extreme fight responses are much harder to handle especially when children are hell bent on hurting parents or siblings.

    1. Of course, this definitely is not a magic wand, just guidance to try to help prevent anxiety from escalating further in cases where that can be prevented x

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