What To Do Before, During and After A Meltdown

by | Apr 5, 2022 | Family, Mental Health, Tips

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Another Meltdown?!

It always happens at the most inconvenient time. Walking down the aisle at Target, in front of extended family, or while on a family vacation. Meltdowns happen everywhere, and over anything. And as parents, we don’t always know what to do. Even though some of us may want to sit down and cry with them. So what do we do during and after a meltdown? And is there anything we can do to prevent them?

Causes of Meltdowns

Mom on couch, hands on head, girl cringing at her tablet. Meltdown

There are many causes that may trigger your child to have a meltdown. It is important to recognize and document when the meltdowns occur. Figuring out if and what the trigger might be will help to be proactive. Also, by documenting when meltdowns are happening you may be able to see a pattern. For example, is it happening every day before it is time to get ready for dinner. Is it when you ask your child to stop playing with a toy. Some causes may be:

  • Being frustrated with a task
  • Not wanting to stop playing
  • Feeling physically uncomfortable
  • Being excluded
  • Homework time
  • Bedtime
  • Lack of sleep
  • Hungry

Tools: Being Proactive

  • Find calm space to go to when feeling frustrated.
  • Determine a signal for you to give your child when you see they are getting frustrated.
  • Create a signal for your child- have them give you that signal when they feel big emotions.
  • Have clear expectations. 
  • Have a toolkit for your child of what to do when they start feeling frustrated.
  • Talk about the 5 senses. What does feeling frustrated look like, feel like, smell like, taste like and sound like. Do this when they are not frustrated, so they can recognize the feelings.

Growth Mindset for before meltdowns

Try using growth mindset. With a growth mindset, you will lessen your child’s meltdowns. Having a growth mindset is knowing that whatever you are doing to support your child will improve with more effort.  For example, it is frustrating when you yell at your child because they have a meltdown. A growth mindset accepts that all of us make mistakes as parents. But we can make it better by how we continue to respond to our child. Having a growth mindset is believing that you can change and make improvements with effort. 

Having a growth mindset is something we can help our kids develop too. For example, knowing there will be times when our best is not good enough, but if we continue to put in the effort, we will get better. Having a growth mindset will help lessen meltdowns. Being proactive and present when your child is having a meltdown, helps develop a growth mindset. Parents can model and teach how to have a growth mindset.

Guidelines for During the Meltdowns

frustrated boy with hand on head, meltdown

Anticipating the triggers will benefit both you and your child. Sometimes you can distract your child by changing the subject, the activity or the environment. 

  • Use fewer words or less talking
  • Find a distraction
  • Validate your child’s feelings
  • Stay patient
  • Listen and repeat
  • Model self calming like using breathing techniques
  • Give some space

Things to Say to Your Child

It is very important to remain calm when your child is having a meltdown. This is difficult to do, but remember to understand that a meltdown includes big emotions for kids. The parent needs to understand what the child is experiencing. Your child is extremely overwhelmed by emotions and does not have the words to explain it. So, they are showing emotions by having a meltdown to tell you that there is an issue or that something is not right.

Here are some things to say to your child when they are having a meltdown:

1. Let’s go to your brain break list and pick one.

2. I love you. You are safe.

3. Let’s work on this when you are ready.

4. You might feel bad right now and that is okay to feel this way.

5. I am here for you.

6. You’re angry right now. That’s okay. 

7. I’ll sit here with you while you feel it.

8. I’ll sit here until it is over.

9. You’re sad right now and you don’t know why.

10. Don’t worry we have plenty of time.

11. This will get better.


After the Meltdown

After the meltdown when your child is calm, is a good time to discuss what happened. Depending on the age of your child, here are a few questions to ask:

  1. Praise your child for calming down.
  2. What happened that upset you?
  3. Can you tell me what frustrated you?
  4. How did you feel?
  5. Reassure your child that you love them, no matter what.
blackboard with Your Mindset Matters

Growth Mindset

Through all of this, it is good to talk about how this meltdown happened and how your child can improve by using the tools you discussed.  Reassure your child that this will pass. Tell them that by working together they will continue to get better at regulating their emotions. Explain and use the words of a growth mindset so they understand the purpose. As kids mature, they gain self-control. They learn how to communicate, cooperate, and cope with big emotions. 

Learning to recognize the signs of a meltdown and practicing how to cope by using the tools will lessen meltdowns. This develops a growth mindset, which will help to regulate their emotions. Most importantly, it takes practice. By modeling calm behaviors your child will learn that strong feelings and big emotions are not overwhelming and can be managed. 

Now you know what to do when the next meltdown happens. Be sure to follow the links to more resources to guide you on the way. We are here to help. Email us anytime!


what to do before, during and after a meltdown

by Dr. Kim Grengs, Ed.D., Parent Coach

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