If ever there was a time for calming interventions, it’s now! 2020 has been brutal with COVID-19 disrupting every life. We have some tips for how to calm things down …
But, first off there’s differentiating tantrums from meltdowns. All children have tantrums, but meltdowns are a whole different thing. We want to avoid them.
- Help prevent a tantrum or meltdown in the first place.
- Help calm a child if they are becoming agitated or are already upset.
The Difference Between a Tantrum and Meltdown:
Think of a Tantrum as an uncontrolled outburst or frustration. It’s typical in younger children and often caused by them not getting their way (such as cake for breakfast). In the case of a tantrum, do not give in to the demand or it risks reinforcing the negative behaviour. A Meltdown is a whole different story. It indicates a child is past communicating and feels overwhelmed, often due to sensory overload (excess noise, lights, visual stimuli, smells). Understanding is needed. Remove the child to a quiet corner with reduced sensory stimuli and give them time to calm down.
Go to a Safe Space:
Identify a ‘safe space’ at home. Perhaps find a permanent spot? A small indoor tent works well. Or try a simple sheet laid over a table to make a ‘hidey hole’.
- Minimise noise.
- Avoid bright lights.
- Include colours and images that your child likes.
- Keep comfort objects in the space.
- Try to keep the space constant, so that it becomes associated with calm comfort.
Bring your child to the Safe Space whenever they need soothing. This will create an association between the space and a calm feeling.
A comfort object is the thing a child reaches for when they self-soothe. It can be anything, a soft blanket, a chair, a particular toy… Identify the object in advance, so you can quickly reach for it when soothing is needed.
- Some children are soothed by weighted toys placed on their lap. A weighted vest also can help.
- Some children are soothed by chewing on something. Try an ‘OT necklace’ with a rubber object.
- Some children need earmuffs – these also help reduce intrusive noise in the ‘Safe Space’.
Deep rhythmic breaths help regulate emotions. When your child begins to express anxiety, try sitting face-to-face and breathe together. Maybe hold hands and squeeze lightly when you breathe in. This helps guide the child’s breathing and creates a personal connection that can soothe.
- Crying can help. As with breathing it helps calm the autonomic nervous system. Don’t worry if your child must cry a bit – they will likely feel much better afterwards.
Sing a Song
Children often have an interest in specific songs. Identify if your child has a preferred song. Try singing it in a calm and quiet voice when anxiety occurs.
- Some children may prefer absolute silence.