When your child is overwhelmed and does not have the skills to show their distress in some other less intrusive way, more mature way., you have a meltdown on your hands.
You are in the moment and you have some important parenting choices to make. What you do can help the situation or can make it worse.
1) Stay calm. Every parent knows that this is probably half the battle. It is probably one of the hardest things we have to do as parents. Staying cool and calm in the presence of a child who is being unreasonable or even hysterical is hard. Possibly one of the hardest parts of parenting. But it is so important.
One thing to remember if you are struggling with this piece is that ultimately you are modeling behavior for your child. How to calmly express and handle strong emotions and frustration is a difficult task for children with autism, ADHD and anxiety. If you can show them how you handle frustration well, ultimately it will be an important piece of their learning. They notice and learn from everything we do.
2) Move forward with the things you know are soothing. Know your child’s playbook and be ready. Do they need time alone? Do they need to cuddle? What will help them regulate and calm down?
For many parents of younger children, a time-out is a go to move. In the case of a meltdown it may not be helpful. Your child may need to be in contact with you and need you close by to get herself together and under control.
3) Do not try to talk about it or reason with the child
There is a time and place to talk about what happened and to figure out how to avoid it in the future. During the meltdown is not that time.
Use as little language as possible. They will not be able to process or understand. In some cases it will make it worse. There will be time for this later when everyone is in a better place.
4) Do not talk about consequences or punishment in the moment. You may in fact need to impose a consequence (or you may not) but at the moment of meltdown is not the time to talk about it at all. Your child is in no shape to understand it and it is likely that you are not in a place to think rationally. Do not make threats you may or may not follow through on. A consequence may in fact be appropriate and necessary. But in the heat of the meltdown moment, your child will not take it in.
5) Keep the big picture in mind.
Breathe and do not forget about the progress you and your child have made. In the moment of the meltdown it can feel like nothing has changed. It can feel like any progress is really no progress. But stay do not lose sight of the the gains and progress that your child has made. We expect bumps along the way and we know that meltdowns are part of the picture for many of our quirky children.