Saturday, 26 November 2016

Our Calming Strategies for Meltdowns

As I blogged about previously, meltdowns are something that we deal with, at times, on a daily basis. It is unfortunately a part of life, you get used to them and begin to develop strategies to help your children. I wouldn't wish a meltdown on anyone.

Eventually you get to the point where you are able to recognise when a meltdown is about to occur and are able to diffuse the situation before the meltdown becomes full blown. It's all about timing and getting to know your child's cues.


With O and L there are certain things that just work, so I thought that I would share the calming strategies that work for us. Your strategies might be different from ours, and that is to be expected. Autism is called a spectrum disorder for a reason! Most of the time our strategies work, but there are times whenall we can do is ride out the storm.

Remain Calm. Always.

The main strategy that we try to remember is remain calm, no matter what the situation is. This might seem like common sense, and it is, but at times it is incredibly difficult to remain calm, especially when your child is throwing things around the house or yelling that they hate you or don't want you.

We worked out very early on that raising our voice just didn't work. O and L weren't shocked into silence, it had the opposite effect. The louder we raised our voices, the louder they became.

By remaining calm we are reducing the amount of stress that is placed on O and L. The last thing that a child having a meltdown needs is more stress. It is just going to make the situation worse.

Essential Oils

Late last year one of my friends, thank you Amanda, put me onto essential oils. She gave us four small blends to start off. I will admit that I was a little sceptical at first, how on earth would oils help my little superheroes. But at that point we had tried a lot of other things and hadn't found anything that worked.


I still don't know how they work, but they seem to help. Both O and L look forward to getting their oils at night time, I just roll the bottle behind their ears or on the soles of their feet. The oil doesn't help them to get to sleep, but it does relax them. I have also tried the relaxation blend, and I must admit that the lovely aroma is enough to relax me. The oils have become part of their bed time routine.

O also has a blend to assist her with her anxiety, and it does help her in a small way.

I've since added a few more blends to our collection. You name the ailment or condition, there is probably an oil or a blend that can help. We've tried a migraine blend, a stress blend, one for coughs and they all seem to help.

They are worth a try if you're out of options.

Know your child's triggers and cues

This didn't long to work out. Every time we went to a large crowded noisy shopping centre with L, he would be in meltdown mode within about 10 minutes of entering the complex. We then worked out that he was in sensory overload. L would give us cues, and still does, when he is in sensory overload and we know that when he starts showing those cues, it's time to get him out and that we only have a very small window to do so.


Knowing your child's triggers means that you can either avoid certain situations or prepare your child beforehand. If we know that we have to go some where that ordinarily would cause L to have a meltdown, we prepare him beforehand so that he knows what is going to happen. We also take along L's sensory bag so that he can self regulate.

L's sensory bag contains his weighted blanket, a pair of block out ear muffs and a marble maze. The marble maze is a great fidget toy, L has to concentrate on getting the marble from one end of the maze to the other. By concentrating on what his hands are doing, he can block out some of the noise and busyness around him.


Other sensory toys that we have used are calm down bottles (warm water, glitter glue and fine glitter,) a small plastic bottle with rice in it to shake, squishy plastic balls, plastic chew necklaces and a peek a boo bag (fabric bag with a clear plastic window and the bag is filled with beads and small toys to find.) Basically anything that O and L can squash, squeeze, shake or manipulate. All of these assist O and L to focus on anything other than the sensory overload.

Both O and L have various stims depending on the mood that they are in. Stims or stimming is a self-stimulatory behaviour and is considered a way in which people with Autism calm, stimulate and self regulate their own emotions. L's therapists have described stimming as a way that L decompresses and releases excess energy. L also stims to calm down - it sounds strange really but by spinning he can help himself to calm down. O chews on her shirt when she starts getting anxious. Stimming can also help other emotions to show. O bounces when she is excited and swings her arms when she is nervous.

It might take a while to work out your child's triggers and cues but it is something that pays off in the long run. It can make outings a whole lot easier.

Pick your battles

This is fairly obvious but at times I think it is something that we overlook. We certainly pick our battles with O and L. I know that if I skip O's bedtime ritual, then she will not go to sleep. Spending the extra 5 minutes to run through her bed time ritual means she'll go to sleep quicker and quietly. And it means that I get an extra 5 minutes of cuddles!

I would love O and L to eat a meal that I cook every night of the week, but there are some nights when I am so exhausted from the day that it really isn't worth the stress of a meltdown to make them eat. We do have a deal going that if they try at least a mouthful of something on the plate, that they can then have the good old faithful baked beans or spaghetti.

If you know that you are exhausted, it might be good for your own sanity to just let them go. Know which battles you can pick, it might just make your day or night a little quieter.

Be there for your child.

Your child might not want you in the room with them when they're in meltdown mode, but be nearby for them.

Be there to make sure that they don't injure themselves or others. By being there, you are reassuring your child that everything will be alright.

I hope that by being nearby, that on some conscious level, O and L know that I am there if they need me.

I don't sit right next to O or L, as that just seems to agitate them. O and L both don't like to be touched while they are in meltdown mode, they become quite distressed. I stay within eye sight of them so if need be I can remove objects from them or stop them from hurting themselves and I can comfort them immediately when they choose to come to me.

Tantrum or Meltdown?

One of the major keys is knowing the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown. Children with Autism are more prone to meltdowns. But they can also throw tantrums with the best of them. I can't stress how important it is to know the difference because the last thing you want to be doing during a tantrum is reinforcing their behaviour because you have misread it as a meltdown. The way we deal with a tantrum is completely different to how we deal with a meltdown. They are two completely different things.


If you're not sure what the difference is, please go and read up on them. The big glaringly obvious difference between the two is, is your child able to talk to you during the madness? If they are responding to you, they're more than likely having a tantrum. If they are not able to respond to you, chances are they are having a meltdown.

O makes demands during a tantrum. If we were to give into her demands, we are just reinforcing that behaviour. Next time she knows that if she says "if you give me such and such, I will calm down," she'll just keep making demands until we cave. During a meltdown, she screams unrecognizable sounds.

By knowing the difference between the two, we are able to handle both effectively. 

Behaviour is not done on purpose, it is done for a purpose.

This is a big rather important point and something that I think all parents need reminding of. It is something that I regularly have to remind myself of. When O or L are in meltdown mode, I have to remind myself that in that moment, neither of them are able to find the words to express how they are feeling or what they need.

I guess a good analogy is a baby. Babies cry for various reasons - they're hungry, they're tired, they have a dirty nappy, they're over stimulated, they just want mum or dad. Parents, very early in, are able to figure out what each cry means. A baby is not able to do much more than cry to express what they need. We as parents need to know what each cry means so that we're able to respond to them appropriately.

A child having a meltdown is the same.

It is incredibly difficult not to take what the child says and does personally. O and L certainly don't mean any malice when they're having a meltdown, they're not in control of their own bodies.

Earlier this year, L had a whopper of a meltdown that lasted well over an hour and at the conclusion of it, I had a black eye. I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. I'd put L into his bedroom for his and O's safety and he was throwing things out of the doorway into the passage way. I was sitting in the doorway, I put my head down for a few seconds to take my glasses off and when I looked up, a rather large ninja turtle collided with my head. L had no idea what he had done. He didn't throw the ninja turtle at me on purpose, I was just in the way.


The following morning he did ask what had happened to my eye, but he had no recollection whatsoever of what he had done. He was sad that my eye was hurt and gave me a cuddle.

A meltdown is their way of saying "I am over stimulated" or "I have used up all my energy at school and have none left for home" or "I am scared or worried or anxious."

No child has a meltdown on purpose. The meltdown serves as a form of communication. You just have to work out what they are trying to tell you.

Tell your child that you love them. No. Matter. What.

A child needs to be loved unconditionally, that's our job as a parent. To show them that are loved, no matter what they do or say.


After O or L has had a meltdown, I always make sure that they know that I love them. I think it is incredibly important for both of them to hear the words "I love you" after they have expended so much emotional, mental and physical energy.

They need to know that I am there for them, no matter what. That I love them, no matter what they do or say to me. That I will love them and be there for them, always. That loving them is my job, no matter what.


54 comments:

  1. These are fantastic tips. I have friends with autistic children and i see how hard it can be. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. You poor lady, I hope no more ninja turtles meet your face! This is timely for me as my husband and one child are on the spectrum. Other than the essential oils, I have tried them all. I particularly try choosing my battles, and staying calm. Nice post; you are doing a great job!

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    1. Hopefully, it really hurt. Thank you for your kind words.

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  3. I used to work with children and teens with special needs in high school, it was like a class, but we got paid. This would have helped so very much I always had essential oils with me! I didn't know they would do so much. Thanks for this post!

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    1. I was a skeptic, but not anymore. Just picked up a few more oils today :)

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  4. WOW! This is a very emotional post. I have to admit my kid (who is now 14) never had a meltdown - a few tantrums but those were when he was very young and he never threw things around. He now is a responsible young man - although I am waiting for the teenage hormones to kick in.
    Does this happen often?

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    1. Unfortunately it happens quite regularly. Meltdowns are one of those things that anything can set them off. But touch wood we haven't had a major one this week, only little ones that we've been able to diffuse before they started.

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  5. Ty for sharing the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum! My son has a speech delay and I have learned that when he is having a tantrum if I yell it NEVER ever works so keeping calm is huge glad to see these few tips thanks! (btw my son is sitting next to me and he loves the background on your blog!)

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    1. Say thank you to your son, my son chose it! Hope that you can use some of these tips!

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  6. I'm very impressed with the coping skills your family has developed and will be developing. I've shared your post with a friend of my daughter's who has 3 children with varying degrees of issues on the spectrum. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for sharing, I hope that your friend finds them useful.

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  7. Wow!! I'm touched. You are a supermom.

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  8. Raising kids period is a challenge. I do find that creating a routine helps a lot. It keeps my son on track and my schedule intact.

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    1. Routines are a must in our house too. Some of their routines have become rituals now but they definitely help.

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  9. This is so helpful. My son has autism and can have meltdowns. He's better at calming himself down now. I always remind him to take deep breaths.

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    1. As O gets older she is becoming better at calming herself down. We're always reminding O to take deep breaths, she's gradually getting there.

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  10. I love that chart that shows the difference between tantrums and meltdowns! That is really useful!

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  11. It's a learning process, which I can only imagine. It's going to take some time before you're finally able to identify the triggers and what calms him down. Which is why I admire you for your patience in all of this.

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    1. Thank you. It definitely is a learning process, and a very steep one. We've learnt a lot this year!

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  12. The oil blends sound like a great strategy. Its good you've found something that works.

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    1. The oil blends are great, would really recommend them!

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  13. Such brilliant insight and wisdom shared!!! So very helpfull in those heated moments.

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  14. You are a strong mom.. Thank you for sharing your experience to us.. I admire your determination and your patience.

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  15. This is such a great post for raising children in general. Knowing certain triggers and knowing how to help them. Essential oils are such a wonderful thing to use, my Mum always used to use Lavender for me as a child to help me sleep and to deal with the stress of daily bullying at school.

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    1. I love Lavender, we have a shrub growing wild outside our front door. The smell after it has been watered is wonderful.

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  16. There will always be triggers that you have to be aware of, but in order to be aware of them, you go through this trial and error phase. It's never easy, but your patience will help you go through it at a much better phase. I think you'r amazing!

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  17. Awesome tips. Essential oils are good even for me. Sorry for your eye I hope you are better now

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    1. Thank you. It took a week but the bruise eventually went away.

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  18. Great list of ideas! My son is only 4 months, I'm hoping we won't have to use these strategies but it's nice to know this resource is here!

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    1. I hope that you won't have to use them xx

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  19. Thank you for sharing this. I know plenty need to know these tips and differences.

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  20. These are great tips!! Handling meltdowns with autistic children can be so hard to do.

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    1. I can be very hard. When I see children having a hard time, I really feel for their parents.

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  21. Great advice!!!! Picking your own battles is big!!! Also, ticketing works for my autistic daughter. Crazy how something so simple can calm her down and start a giggle fest

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    1. L loves being tickled too, it always amazes that something that can cause children to become excited can actually calm L down.

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  22. This is a helpful tips! Hope the bruise go away.

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  23. You are really a brave woman! a super mom I'm so proud of you

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  24. I'm glad you know the cues and can act within that small window. It's nice that you're sharing this all for others.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I hope that it will help other families

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  25. Love remain calm always, so so true even with kids who don't have autism.
    XO, MJ
    http://www.lush-fab-glam.com

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  26. These are all such great tips. Remaining calm yourself during meltdowns has got to be the hardest thing.

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    1. It is very hard, but it makes meltdowns so much easier to deal with.

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  27. I have never really used essential oils but have heard such great things. So many good tips here!

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