Meltdown Prevention: Help Kids Raise Their Own Awareness

Meltdown Prevention

As a parent, there are two ways to approach the management of emotions and impulses.

  1. Meltdown Prevention:

2.  Meltdown Management:

  • Handle challenging circumstances when they occur with as much grace as possible.
  • Teach your child to learn to self-regulate and return to a state of relative calm.

Your long-term goal, as a parent, is to foster resilience and to teach your kids to manage themselves more actively over time. You can do this by modeling behavior for your children and teaching them skills they can use to self-advocate and ask for what they need.

1. Awareness of Self-Regulation:

We often say that Awareness is 50% of the process of change. It's important for your kids to learn to manage impulsive and emotional behaviors, but they have to start by becoming aware that they are behaving impulsively or irrationally.

The trick is to help your kids begin to recognize their inappropriate behaviors without letting them fall deep into self-judgment and criticism. What if you provide a safe and constructive space for your child to be impulsive?  What if having trouble sitting at the dinner table became a funny joke instead of a felony offense?

The challenge with meltdown prevention is that we adults get triggered! When we get scared that they won't be able to eventually learn to control their impulsivity, we tend to set a zero-tolerance policy that makes it difficult for them to improve incrementally. While all or nothing – black and white – tends to be how many of our kids view the world, it's not a great approach to gradually increase their self-control.

So, on the Emotionality front, it helps to normalize meltdowns for your kids. Let them know that it's something you're going to work on with them, you're going to help them change.  This is when you get to be your child's champion. You might say something like,

“Sweetie, I know it feels rotten when you start feeling sad or scared. I'm going to help you begin to learn to handle those feelings better. But we're going to have to be patient because this is hard because you feel things a LOT. But I know you can do it, and I'm going to be here to help.”

It may sound a bit corny – and you'll have to adjust for age, of course – but it's often just what your child wants to hear most. Our kids need to know that they're going to be okay and you're going to be there to help!

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2.  Awareness of Emotional Intelligence:

There is a lot to learn from emotional meltdowns. However, the best time to extract the learning from an emotional incident and prevent meltdowns is NOT while it is happening.  Whether it's you or your child who is challenged with staying calm, remember that any learning needs to happen at another time when calmer heads prevail.

After an emotional upset, you'll want to find some time to “debrief” and help your child learn from it. Review the blog, and talk about the emotions that were expressed – without judgment, as much as possible.

a.  Talk about what appropriate expression might look like.
b.  Express compassion for the person and the intense feelings.
c.  Identify what happens when emotions take over.
d.  Discuss other ways to handle the situation in the future.
e.  Identify potential triggers that set off the emotion.
f.  Identify potential strategies for regaining composure. Create a list to use in the future.

QUESTIONS To Guide You as you Teach Your Child to Become Aware and Learn to Manage Emotionality and Impulsivity:

  1. What are my child's key challenges with Emotionality, and how do I feel about it?
  2. What are my child's key challenges with Impulsivity, and how do I feel about it?
  3. How have I already communicated with my child about the importance of learning to exercise self-control?
  4. What do I want to make sure s/he understands?
  5. How have I already communicated with my child about managing emotions?
  6. What do I want to make sure s/he understands?
  7. Do I Want or Need Outside Help?

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