Quick Tip

Prevent Meltdowns with a Trigger Journal

Meltdowns Aren’t Always Random

One of the most important parts of helping our kids learn how to handle their emotional intensity — and manage meltdowns — is to understand what triggers them in the first place. The same is true for us. Managing our own triggers is a powerful way to teach our kids to model theirs. And a trigger journal can be just the tool you need — for your kids, and for you.

When we get curious, we realize that there is some predictability to when, where and what sets off our kids (or us) in a meltdown or a fit. It’s usually not some random set of events — even if it feels like it at the time.

Triggers can come from many areas:

  • physical (tired, hungry)
  • environmental (sensory)
  • emotional (stress, hormones)
  • mental (thoughts)

One great solution to figuring out your child’s triggers (or yours), so they can learn to stop or manage their meltdowns, is to keep a Trigger Journal for a few days.

How to Create a Trigger Journal

For a few days, take notice of any of your child’s emotional intensity, and keep a record of when they’re struggling to manage meltdowns.  What was happening just before?  What were they reacting to? What potential triggers can you capture in the journal? Get curious about what she might have been thinking that caused the reaction in the first place.

Once you have collected some data in your trigger journal for a few days, use that information to prevent future meltdowns.  For example:

  • If you know your child has a hard time shifting gears from one activity to another (likely an executive function deficit making transitions difficult), find ways to give warnings about what is coming next, and choices through the process.
  • If meltdowns tend to happen in the late afternoon before dinner (likely hungry, particularly if medications are wearing off), make sure your child has a protein-based snack.
  • If your child is just not a morning person, avoid “intense” conversations and keep instructions to a minimum.

Take a few moments each day to capture what you notice in your house in your trigger journal, so you can help your kids learn to reduce the intensity and frequency of their upsets. Kids actually want to manage meltdowns when they can, and the trigger journal can help! It couldn’t hurt to raise awareness of your own triggers, too.

More From Anxiety Blog