A complete meltdown… so much sadness! Now what?

Helemaal ingestort… enorm verdriet! Wat nu?

Delen | Share

The weather is nice and many people have their doors open. This is also the case in our courtyard, which means you sometimes can’t help overhearing stuff… I hear a child on the other side of the courtyard going all out. Sounds like she’s véry unhappy. She’s been screaming her lungs out for about ten minutes. ‘Mommymommymommymommy!!!’ is the only thing making any sense in the jumble of screams.

Children sometimes have a complete meltdown and with some of them it is ‘no holds barred’. They scream, cry, screech, kick and punch and it’s almost impossible to get them to stop. It’s clearly different from a tantrum resulting from not being allowed something or the other. No, this is a “full blown collapse” that can last up to half an hour or more and is usually disproportionate to what happened just before (but maybe not as to what has been building up all day or even in the last two days).

A meltdown can happen because so much sensory input has accumulated that the child is overwhelmed and becomes exhausted. The brain uses a lot of energy to process everything. Too much has happened and there is too little time to recover. This process is still ongoing.

Totally energy draining for the child and pretty bad for the parent or teacher. And both sides feel quite helpless. The child cannot stop, because their ‘stress-system’ has taken over and they are in ‘survival mode’ and the parent does not know what to do. 

Here are some tips:

Auditory input (sounds) and visual input (images)

  • Speak calmly, so that you do not add extra auditory input, for example through too high a voice volume.
  • Remove other auditory input: have only one person talking to the child and try to get away from other sounds (people in the area, radio, telephone, television).
  • Move slowly and remove visual stimuli as much as possible. Ask others to leave, turn off the TV, or block the child’s view if you can’t get out of the situation.
  • Using a soft voice and slow movements you can be a beacon for the child, giving off the calm energy you want the child to ‘move towards’.
  • Let the child make noise and move around a bit, it can help release frustrations. So crying and moving is fine.

Surrounding sensory input

  • Make sure only one person interacts with the child. The one who can stay the most peacefull. Two or more people trying to communicate with the child are too much input for the child. It already takes a lot of energy to focus on one person, two people brings too much input.
  • Only communicate with the child. Deal as little as possible with the surroundings, this also creates too much extra input for the child.
  • When you are at home, take the child to their bedroom, so they may crawl under the covers and hold their stuffed animals. This way, no unfamiliar input is added and the child can recover. (You may have to lift or guide the child to their room.)
  • Alternatives are providing a blanket on the couch; in a large chair; or in the back seat of the car. If necessary, the child can hide under mom or dad’s big coat, or behind an open umbrella.

Tactile input

  • Occasionally (when the worst is over) rub the child’s hair and back gently. Do it firm and slowly. This way the child may calm down (and hopefully you too). Watch and listen to the response. Rubbing their back while having a blanket around them may be easier to accept then direct touch.
  • If possible, have the child take a warm shower or bath after the crying has stopped. Set the temperature how the child likes it. This can help ‘wash off’ the last negative emotions. And the (neutral) heat is soothing.
  • After showering, the child can come and sit with you and by giving them a firm hug, the child is given deep pressure which soothes them even more.

Good luck! And I hope my neighbor across the courtyard reads this too.

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