What Are Meltdowns Exactly?

Welcome to my Crazy House, Today I thought I would talk about meltdowns and what exactly they are and how they affect ourselves or our children. Raising teens with additional needs as well as having ADHD myself, has taught me a few things that I’d love to share with you all.

First off, let’s start with Tantrums! We all know what a Tantrum is. Or do we!?! Tantrums are usually common among younger children but not necessarily. To clarify, a tantrum is caused by impulses of needs and wants with a purpose. Often because you want your thought to become a reality without thinking it through. As adults we often say I should of thought through that first am I right? For example, your child suddenly notices all the chocolate bars at the cash and immediately begs for one because they are suddenly starving to death if they don’t get one. We, as parents, sometimes give in to avoid the embarrassment or take the child out of the store while they are whaling away for their spontaneous desire.

Meltdowns are a bit more complex than a tantrum even though a meltdown can start off as a tantrum then fall into a meltdown. That is where it becomes tricky. Is it still just a tantrum or has it revolved into a meltdown? How do we know for sure? A meltdown is a reaction that builds up from feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated, overstressed, or overly anxious.

For example from the child in the above paragraph: the parent decided not to give in and continued to take the screaming child filled with the biggest tears you have ever seen demanding their starving to the car. the parent is struggling to get them to calm down and put on their seatbelt but is unsuccessful, maybe the child even slips away and runs into oncoming traffic. At this point, their Fight and Flight response has kicked in. Their out of breath, sweaty, and beginning to feel exhausted and terrified of her own loss of control. That’s right it has turned into a meltdown.

To the person who is experiencing the meltdown, It can feel like a loss of control over their own mind and body. They can suddenly feel horrified, powerless, sad, fustrated, physical pain, embarrassed, ashamed, numb, traped, out of breath and exhausted.

Right now you may be thinking to your self well… that doesn’t exactly look like my child or how I feel. This is because meltdowns can present themselves in many different ways.

Masking: Can look like your not bothered at all, or make jokes or inappropriate comments. You may fidget or stim, or nothing at all but allow it to build up inside yourself until you are at your safe place where you can release into a ball of rage, aggression, defensive or just a flood of tears and anyone around you has know clue what just happened of just assume they know what may have made you or them upset, or lash out or completely withdrawn.

Withdrawn: Can look quiet, lost in your own thoughts, staring into space, your body can turn completely numb, unable to move or speak, curled up in a ball, or hide in darkness.

Outwards: Can look like your short tempered, rude, taking control, demanding, yelling, swearing, sarcastic, picking a fight, teasing others, or run away, because you are loosing your own self control.

Explosive: At this point is generally caused by previously masking your emotions or your emotions have suddenly taken complete control over your state of mind. This can look terrifying not only to your self but to anyone who may witness your emotional release. This can include screaming, swearing, hurtful words, demanding control, self-harming, hitting, kicking, punching, biting, hair pulling, throwing or damaging anything within your reach.

How can you help someone experiencing a meltdown? If it is a tantrum and not yet a meltdown. This is when you can still regain some control by being extremely mindful of your choice of words. Acknowledge the person’s desire and don’t respond to quickly. You don’t want to spook the deer or pull the red wier to set off the bomb. Reference from the child mentioned above. Say: I understand you are hungry it’s nearly dinner time, when we get home you can have a orange or apple, while I prepare dinner. This gives them the sense of control and satisfaction as well as a timeframe of when their desire will be met or compromised. Same as if it was a toy maybe snap a photo with your phone and tell them you will remember to get it for them for the birthday or explain why it’s nice but not within your budget and will find something that is or something they can work for to get in the future.

What are physical signs that a meltdown might be brewing!?

  • Feeling sweaty, flushed face, distracted, loss of concentration.
  • Feeling unwell, tense, rosy cheeks, chest pains, headache, tummy ache.
  • Begin to pace back and forth, rocking or fidgety or stimming.
  • Seek reassurance, ask repeated questions or phases, go into defence mode,
  • start to feel uncomfortable, sad, frustrated, anxious, emotional or ignoring.
  • Take charge, controlling, demanding, increased ego, argent, complaining or crying.

If it’s to late and has turned into a full blown explosion melt down these are my tips that I use with my own kids and now teens.

  • Stay calm and in control of my own emotions. Recognise it is a meltdown and it will pass.
  • Don’t say any words to add to the explosion. reassure the person is safe, tell them they are ok, its ok to feel emotions.
  • Make sure you are safe,
  • Don’t touch or move the person. Move all objects within reach of the person. (touch at this point can be extremely painful).
  • Take notes of what happened before, during and after. This will help find triggers to avoid this meltdown in the future. Suggest a distraction if the person is calming down. This distraction should also be a recovery of the meltdown such as cold water, blanket, sensory room, music, even tv or videogame depending on age and what you know will help them recover. This by no means is a reward it’s a recovery for them as well as yourself. As adults we often forget that we tend to play a game on our phone, scroll Facebook etc. to unwind/recover and kids need the same. Today we live in a busy fast past world. We forget to stop and smell the flowers. 😊

If you would like to chat or would like some more info about how I manage meltdowns or other positive parenting tips parent to parent. Message me in Instagram @ tammyandhercrazyhouse.

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