Monday, December 13, 2010

Meltdowns and Parental Creativity

I can well understand parents wanting tools to help them deal with meltdowns . The feelings of despair and helplessness remain long after the meltdown where your child has spiraled out of control. These negative feelings are pretty dangerous as we tend to loose sight of the big picture , the progress our child may be making and we start looking for the ' quick fixes. He needs a shaking up , heavy consequences so he would never dream of ever behaving like that again. We forget that ' children do well if they can ' and that it takes 2 to tango . What role did we play in the scenario. ? Did we act like a THERMOSTAT to help the kid cool down or did we throw more fuel on the fire. ?

We should relate to meltdowns as a big wave coming at you , you put your head down and ride it out. This is not the time for collaborative problem solving – emergency Plan B and certainly not a time for Plan A – using power . This is a time to help your child calm down and get back on track and this requires creativity.

A typical ' explosive child ' - inflexible , low frustration tolerance , poor adaptability etc exploded because her father had lit the candle = attendant/shamash used to light the other Hanukah candles. The kid was also pretty nervous as she had planned to go to her grandparents nearby and work on a family 'roots' project and then go to a youth group meeting. The candle lighting ceremony takes about 15 minutes.

Her parents tried to calm her down by saying that it was no big deal that her father had lit the ' shamash ' candle - not the Hanukah candle itself , she would be able to light this candle on the following nights. The kid was angry with her father and was not polite at all and wanted to leave the ceremony and go to her grandparents. Her dad did not allow her to leave and then because she was rude , she was given a consequence of staying in her room and not be allowed to go to the group meeting. The dad had to leave the home with the mom protesting that she had to deal with the kid's raging and that it was unfair that the dad who had given the consequence was not there to deal with the kid.

The way to deal with meltdowns is to AVOID them. We avoid them by creating an environment which is user friendly , get rid of potential triggers , have a happy , calm and relaxed atmosphere, plenty of chatting and bonding and most important –working together to find mutually , realistic and doable solutions to unsolved problems.

The constraints of time often are triggers for explosive behavior. It would have been helpful if the kid with the help of her parents had made a schedule of her day - that would make her day predictable with inbuilt room for flexibility. Lists and schedules are great because it is not the parent telling the kid what to do , but the list or schedule which the kid has made.

When a kid is showing signs of frustration it is time for parental creativity. If the parents had also focused on their role in the interaction and the need for some creativity instead of just trying to calm the kid down , they would have come up with the obvious solution – put out the candle and apologize. Being creative is better than emergency Plan B.

It is also better to be proactive and come up with a plan with the child to help the kid calm down. You can build a ' comfort corner ' or a little tent with books , beanbag chair ,tape , games , coloring books etc that the kid chooses to distract him and help him calm down. Food , snacks or drinks can also have a calming down affect. Kids can do some quick exercise , walk around the block , skipping rope or have mom give them a massage or let them have a warm bubble bath. Meditation and breathing techniques are very useful. The family as a whole can learn this techniques and spend time relaxing . Kids who know how to use these techniques find them very useful in calming themselves down. Instead of being angry , kids can put their thoughts on paper and journalize the things that make them angry, sad or happy. This journal is something private , only for their eyes , which they can tear up when they feel fit.

When the meltdown is on its way , our aim is to stop the emotional rush by distracting the brain into ' thinking' about something different. You can do something different – stand on your head , dance like a crazy woman etc. Giving a kid something very different to touch , or a snack , drink can change thinking. If the kid is ranting and raving , just be there to listen silently , with the occasional 'oh' or I hear yuh and wait for the energy to dissipate . Sometimes the meltdown has to run its course - the kid needs to release that tied up frustration. Kids will also try to do things which will seems to be provocative. Do not respond and let them have the last word.

We deal with meltdowns by avoiding them and working on solutions for unsolved problems. The more problem solving exercises the child experience , whether he is collaboratively problem solving his own personal issues or discussing perspectives and concerns of others , he will become a better thinker – a person who can think straight and find various alternative solutions to one problem is less unlikely to have a meltdown.


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