Okay, so now you’ve done absolutely everything in your power to prevent a meltdown from occurring, and it’s happening anyway. Well, first and foremost, please realize that this is not your fault (or your child’s) and that not every meltdown is preventable.
But never fear! There are still some things you can do to keep that meltdown from lasting long. Try some of these tips to stop that meltdown in its tracks!
1. Create a diversion.
If you know what’s causing your kid to meltdown, taking their mind off the subject can be a helpful way to stop the issue. Make a point of showing them their favorite book, toy, or other item, or encourage them to look at something more exciting and fun. For cases where a meltdown is caused by sensory overload, the diversion might be something more simple, such as encouraging the child to cover their ears (which gives them a task to focus on and also takes away some of the sensory input).
2. Apply sensory soothers.
This one takes a little bit of preparation in advance, but you’ve likely already done more of it than you think. First, you’ll need to determine what items in your child’s life are soothing to him or her. It may be a particular stuffed animal, a certain song, a tight hug, anything. It’s different for everyone, but chances are you, as a parent or caregiver, already know exactly which items or stimuli will do the trick.
Once you know what those soothing things are, you can make an effort to always have them on hand, especially in situations where you know a meltdown is likely to take place. When a meltdown starts, you’ve only got to apply the sensory soother and wait for the effects to kick in.
3. Offer water.
Water can be soothing in many ways, but we often fail to think about the fact that drinking water (as opposed to, say, showering or swimming in it) can be soothing. But there’s something about it—whether it be the familiarity of the action, the taste or feel of the water itself, or something else—that makes taking a few gulps of water a soothing experience. Taking a drink of water may also offer a distraction from whatever is causing the meltdown.
Of course, we know not all children with autism will accept a drink of water when in the middle of a meltdown. But it’s worth a try, or perhaps several tries.
4. Encourage deep breathing.
You may not be able to breathe for your child, but you can remind him or her to take some deep breaths to calm down, and you can make an example of yourself by being very calm and breathing deeply. Even point out to your child how you’re breathing deeply to stay calm. This one might not be that helpful the first time, but as your child learns the technique, it will help them regulate those emotions a little better and enable them to recover from a meltdown faster.
5. Get away from the situation.
This one is particularly effective in a situation where something external has triggered the child’s meltdown (particularly if you know what that trigger is). Removing the child from the situation that triggered the meltdown will likely resolve the matter in a manner of seconds. If you’re near your “safe space,” that would be a perfect place to send your child to for a few minutes.
It’s important, of course, to be able to determine the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum though, because you don’t want your child to take advantage of the knowledge that you’ll quickly remove them from any unpleasant situation as soon as they start to fuss.
Have you tried any of the tips above for preventing or stopping a meltdown? Do you have another tip you’d like to share that we didn’t discuss in this list? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?