We’ve all “been there done that” in the epicenter of a major behavioral meltdown or a terrible temper tantrum out in public. Whether “we” are the audience or actually part of the “performance,” these explosive behaviors can be both embarrassing and physically dangerous for those involved. The best approach for dealing with meltdowns or tantrums is to completely avoid them if possible. Avoiding the triggers or causes of potential situations is vital. The goal of this article is to provide strategies to help you “head them off at the pass.” Taking the energy and time to plan better initially, might help facilitate a more pleasant environment for all.
Five Basic Strategies for Success
Front loading or mentally preparing is one of the best supports that you can provide a child with isms. Let’s face it, we all like to know what to expect. It reminds me of the terror I feel when entering a haunted house. I am so anxious about what is around the next corner. Imagine entering a haunted house with the lights on and a manual detailing each “scare” around every corner. That takes away the majority of the fears of entering a haunted house, right? Well, that’s basically what “front loading” accomplishes. It lets the child know what to expect and reveals any potential unknowns. Front loading can be done verbally, with visual/picture supports or by creating a step-by-step social story on the upcoming activity. For some events, this preparation could be as simple as writing something on a post-it. For other events, such as traveling by plane for the first time, you may need weeks of prep time. You may even have to review the information several times.
Avoid Overloading Schedules
If you have some errands to run, don’t expect your child to be able to handle a whirlwind of stores at the mall or combining a grocery store trip with a “quick” jaunt over to Walmart. Imagine a tired child going from store to store to store with no end in sight (front loading where you are going might help here too). If you can’t break up challenging shopping nightmares into separate days, at least include some desirable breaks for your child like a brief trip to the park or some sort of rewarding experience.
Redirects or Diversions
So, it’s too late and you missed the behavioral “triggers.” Your child is ready to either have a typical tantrum or is showing signs of full blown behavioral meltdown. You know there are signs. You need to focus on seeing them. In my class, I have one student who starts reciting colors; “yellow, red, blue, green” and we know it’s almost “go time.” So, instead of pushing it and leading him into a dangerous or embarrassing situation, we will redirect or divert him out of it. Your choice of action will depend on the individual as to what works. This does not require bribery. Figure out whatever specifically or generally is increasing his stress and calmly attempt to offer another option which could include a break from the activity, delaying the activity or even offering a drink or a brisk walk outside.
Prepare and Plan Transitions
Going from one errand to another can be stressful, but sometimes it is necessary. Timers and visual supports can help you assist your child through transitions with less tension. Have a simple digital timer within sight and set it to let your child know “we have 5 minutes left in Walmart” or “in 10 minutes, we are leaving the park to go to the grocery store.” In 15 years, I have had very few incidents where a student argued with a timer. Visual supports typically work better than babbling verbal demands repeatedly. You can use Google images to create your own customized visuals, draw stick figures on an index card or use written words when appropriate. Reducing verbal instructions can greatly help in transitions.
Emergency Sensory Backpack
Remember how when your child was an infant you didn’t go anywhere without the diaper bag filled with necessities and activities? Well, think of the sensory backpack as your child’s emergency necessities for when you are out and about. Although each child’s needs would be different, here are some ideas that you might consider having in your backpack.
• Small bottle of water
• Favorite snack
• iPod with favorite tunes programmed
• Head phones to block sound or listen to music
• Sensory fidgets to keep hands busy and reduce anxiety
• Light up spin toys to entertain and distract
• Small Playdough pack
• Water or squishy toy
• Stuffed animal or comfort item
• Weighted blanket or toy
Whether you use one or several of the above strategies, the idea is to take a little time to plan more strategically to create a more enjoyable environment for everyone.