Planning an outing with your family? Trips to the park or the library or just the grocery store can be enjoyable for all involved. For some children, a new experience or visiting a new place may be so exciting they may become overwhelmed and over stimulated. Pre-planning can help to make the difference between a fun journey or a stressful situation for you and your child. At teli, our Early Intervention work often involves helping parents learn how to plan, recognize and anticipate their child’s needs in advance to maximize fun and minimize meltdowns.
What should parents consider in their planning to avoid child meltdowns?
You know your child better than anyone. Over time parents recognize what might have triggered a meltdown and know when their child is beginning to become overwhelmed. The important first step is to catch it before your child is over the edge, so you can short circuit the situation. Consider these questions in your planning so that you don’t find yourself in a difficult situation for both you and your child:
- Always be sure to check off the basics before heading out the door; Have they eaten? Are they tired? Have they gone to the bathroom? Are they wearing comfortable clothes?
- Are there particular sounds, sights or specific situations such as crowds, to which your child is oversensitive?
- What can you tell your child ahead of time to help them know what to expect?
- What is a realistic length of time for an outing for your child?
- What typically helps your child feel comfortable in a new setting?
How to avoid child meltdowns?
Planning your outing around a well-rested and fed child unfortunately is not a guarantee that things will go just as you hoped! It may be time to go or you must move on to the next activity and your child has different thoughts. Anticipating your child’s behavior early and addressing it before a full-blown meltdown is possible. Our teli therapists have some suggestions to short circuit the meltdown.
- Move to a different area to redirect their attention or to help reduce stimulation.
- Set a timer on your phone: Gradually introduce the time remaining such as 5 mins before you leave. Allow your child to start the timer on your phone and monitor accordingly.
- Set a limit on the number of times they have remaining to engage in an activity such as “3 more slides before we leave.”
- Use the” first/then “strategy: “First let’s head toward the car and then we can have a special treat.”
- Encourage them to “skip” or “hop” like their favorite animal to the next location or the car.
What can you do when your child is having a meltdown?
If despite your expert planning and short-circuiting strategies, your see signs that your child is close to or has begun to meltdown. Don’t despair! Consider the following potential strategies suggested by our teli Early Intervention staff:
- First and foremost, regulate your own feelings and maintain control. If a parent is angry and feels out of control, it is very difficult to help a child regulate his feelings.
- Encourage your child to take a deep breath to help them focus on something other than their anger.
- Do not try to reason with a child in the middle of a meltdown. Speak calmly to them to let them know you understand their feelings by giving them words to use in the situation can be helpful. Quietly saying “I know you feel sad and angry that we have to go home, but I’m going to help you to calm down.”
- Consider distracting your child with a different activity or just stay with your child, making sure he is physically safe, until the meltdown is over, taking deep breaths together.
Importantly, as you manage this very difficult situation with your child, they are learning an important lesson in coping from you that will serve them well throughout their life. The strategies provided can help children and adults alike deal with disappointments as well as our world of overstimulation.