Recently, I’ve written a few blogs about behavior management and meltdowns and being a behavior detective. I thought I’d end the behavior series with a blog on how to prevent meltdowns from occurring, or at least try to prevent them! Obviously, preventing meltdowns is the best option if at all possible. No one likes to be around a meltdown, and the child doesn’t like it either.
There are many different experts with their own methods and strategies, but most start with common principles. Know yourself, know your child, meet him/her where they are, know what makes them tick and what works for them, as every child is different. It’s the behavior that is unacceptable, not the child. The child is still valued and loved; the behavior isn’t.
Kids will be kids, and they will lose control. Hopefully, over time, they learn self-control and emotional regulation. But the brain’s frontal lobes which control executive function, which includes behavioral control, don’t fully develop until the child I in his or her late 20’s…so buckle up as it’s going to be a long ride! Remember a meltdown is a child’s best attempt in the moment. It is the fight, flight and fright/freeze response. Trying to prevent these from happening are good for the child and the whole family. Life isn’t perfect and meltdowns will occur, but let’s try to lessen their frequency by employing some of the following:
- Pick your battles—What’s negotiable and what’s non-negotiable? Make sure your kids know the list of “have-to’s” or non-negotiables. Simplify rules and make them realistic to the age of your child. Don’t make a rule/consequence that you cannot be consistent with or follow through with.
- Keep calm in the eye of the storm.
- Catch ‘em being good and let them know you saw them behaving well.
- Tell your child what you want him or her to do, not what you don’t want them to do. Kids do the best they can in the moment.
- Whenever possible, limit the amount of times you say the word “No.” Leave “No” for safety concerns. Instead, give information, and acknowledge and accept your child’s feelings/opinions. Substitute a “yes” for a “no” and use fantasy talk. “Yes, I wish you could stay up late, too, but we have to get up early tomorrow.”
- Don’t phrase things so kids can say ‘no’ if the answer “no” isn’t an option. Wording and phrasing matters. Sometimes indirect requests get better results than directives. Explain your reason for non-negotiables (even if they don’t agree or like them). Do some tasks together that are problematic for your child. Shared ownership is better than no ownership.
- Allow choice and control whenever possible. Don’t get into power struggles you will lose.
- Having agency and mastery helps all kids grow and learn.
- Consistency, Structure and Predictability are providers of Stability and Simplicity that enable your child to Anticipate, which is a means to enhance independence.
- Clear rules, expectations and consequences provide organization, safety, structure and limits while enhancing mastery, self-control and improved self-efficacy.
- Children don’t have the same sense of time or urgency as adults do, so allow for extra time to complete tasks when possible and use timers to help them organize their time.
- Use humor and distraction to achieve desired results.
- Compromise, Flexibility and Negotiation done proactively can go a long way. Work with your child to solve problems before they occur. Be flexible when necessary and make a compromise. Provide your reasoning for the compromise. This is not bribing; rather this approach teaches valuable lessons in win-win solution making, negotiation, compromise, flexibility, fairness and trust. Use this approach next time, and your child will hopefully, over time, learn these valuable lessons/skills.
- Know your child’s triggers and be prepared. Try to eliminate/lessen them if possible. If they can’t be lessened, teach your child the necessary tools to cope with them during more calm moments.
- Know your child’s limits regarding experiences (i.e. downtime, waiting, loosing at games, etc., sensory needs (i.e. hunger, tiredness, sensitivities, etc.) and take these and other areas into consideration. Be prepared and think ahead.
Resources to consider:
- The Whole Brain Child & Parenting from the Inside Out
- 123 Magic
- Collaborative Problem Solving
- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk
About the Author
NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.
Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.
To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.