How About Fall Meltdowns?

Wow, it’s been awhile since I posted! The steady days of summer are now gone ~ all too fast, in my opinion. Many of the kids I work with took amazing vacations with their families. Roadtrips across the states, trips to the beach or Hawaii, and even some European vacations. One of my families cashed in Dad’s/Mom’s sabbatical time and took their two teenage sons around the world. Talk about a great learning experience!
The slowdown was great for me, as well, and I spent the extra time with my girls and extended family. Ah…

And then September hit. Oh yes, my last post reflected on the summer meltdown that often occurs for our kids as we transition off a set school schedule and into more unstructured summertime. But there’s a reversal to this shift when school comes around again, and the shift can be exhausting for both kids and parents alike. I have heard from so many friends and families about the meltdowns happening after the school day. Our kids can hold it together while at school, but it’s very taxing for them! And then we then get home… boom!

A few tips from an SLP perspective:
1. Give your child lots of “down time” on the weekends in September and October. While soccer and pumpkin hunting can often fill the weekend time, it’s important that your child has sufficient time to decompress.

2. With that free time, help them schedule it. For example, make a schedule with BREAKFAST-OUTSIDE PLAY-LUNCH-READING-QUIET TIME-CHORES-DINNER so they know what to expect. They will be able to relax into the “known”, rather than the “unknown”.

3. Set aside time with each child individually. If you need to tag team with your spouse or a grandparent, do it. Arrange for each child to have some quiet alone time, reading, playing a game, or going for a walk with Mom or Dad.

4. Email/chat with your child’s teacher. (I know that you are busy, teacher friends!) But check-in, just briefly, with your child’s teacher to get a read on how things are going at school. Establish open-lines of communication from the get-go. If your child has a Resource Room teacher or case manager, leave them a message, as well.

5. Know that you’ll all get in a groove, it just takes a few weeks. Recognize that back-to-school stress often happens for Mom and Dad (speaking from personal experience here!) and it magnifies what your child is going through.

10 Tips for Avoiding or Decreasing the Summer Meltdown

All kids have meltdowns.   Some kids fly off the handle, and lose the ability to process anything complex (including language!) around them. Other meltdowns may appear mild to the outsider, but to mom or dad are distressing. Some kids go through phases of extreme meltdowns, followed by periods of relatively few disasters.  But all kids have them.

Where does language fit into this?

When your child is overloaded, the first thing to go are the higher cognitive processes (like language and executive functioning/problem-solving abilities).  This means that your child is going to have a much harder time understanding what you are telling them, using words to express themselves, or problem-solve to come up with a solution.  So, not only is your child tired, hungry, or on sensory overload, but they have even fewer coping strategies than pre-meltdown.

It’s a signal to reset and recharge.  Just like adults, kids get overloaded, overwhelmed, and over-tired. Dealing with stressors is natural part of life, and we can teach our children positive ways to handle them. We can also be on the lookout for times when we can avoid or decrease the meltdown, both in frequency and intensity.

Here are 10 ways to avoid or decrease these meltdowns in your child:

1) Eat healthy.  Avoid high sugar and salt in your child’s diet.  We have heard about the ups and downs that come from a sugar rush.  Be very aware of what you are having your child put in his body.  It is as powerful as medicine!

2) Run one or two errands at a time. For the sake of efficiency, I always want to try to group my errands into one big blast of shopping mayhem.  But most children under 5 can only handle about two stops before needing a break.  Many children get sensory overload from shopping malls and grocery stores.  Try and recognize their need to take a break.

3) Use positive reinforcement. When your child is doing a good job of managing a tiring situation, build them up. Let them know that you recognize their perseverance. I try to recite the mantra in my head: “Ten praises for every one criticism.”

4) Get  regular exercise.  Like food, exercise is medicine for the body.  It will help your child regulate their emotions and behavior.  It will also help them decompress.  In my neighborhood, it is common to see entire families out for a walk in the evening.  It’s a great way to de-stress for kids and for parents.

5) Establish a soothing, quiet space where your child can be alone. A calm space can be a bedroom, a special place in the backyard, or even a space in a closet.  Depending on your child’s needs, make this a serene environment by using cool colors, comforting textures, and quiet. (For your child, “quiet” might be total silence, white noise from a fan, or soothing music.)

6) Maintain a routine. Meltdowns can often be a signal that your child is getting overwhelmed by choices or uncertainty.  A regular set of expectations can provide the structure to get back on track.

7) Get enough sleep. It’s hard in the summertime to get your children to bed on time!  It’s still light outside when my daughters head to bed in the Pacific NW. Blinds and blackout curtains can help with this, and a fan for white noise (to drown out the high school students down the road!) can help your child drift off to sleep.  Again, it goes back to routine, and sleep is a large part of your daily schedule.

8) Use signs, gestures, and facial expression to communicate with your child.  When your child is on the precipice of a meltdown, it’s time to scale your language way back. Try leading your child to a quiet corner, get down to their eye level, and use as few words as possible to bring them back around.  Your eyes and smile can speak more than a thousand words, and chances are, your child will be better able to process the feeling of warmth and understanding rather than your words.

9) Give your child an outlet for their energy. Summer is a great time for playing in the pool, running through the sprinklers, shrieking and letting loose. Make sure your child has access daily to such freeing pursuits.

10) Prep your child ahead of time on what to expect, and recap afterwards on how they handled the situation.  You can build your child’s language around a situation.  In the heat of the moment, during a meltdown, your child may not be able to use their words to express themselves.  Helping them decompress at a later time can also help them build language scripts to problem-solve during tricky situations.  Give them some strategies on what to do during a stressful time.  For example: “I could tell you were really tired at the grocery store this morning.  You did a great job of breathing slowly and asking Mom for a snack to get through it.  I liked how you used your words ~ ‘Hey Mom, I’m feeling tired!’ ~ to tell Mom how you were feeling.”  Help them identify their emotions (frustration, anger, etc.) so they can better use language to manage the situation.

One last note…

Don’t forget, you are their model!  How you manage your meltdowns can be helpful to your child.  “Mommy needs to take a break because she is getting frustrated.” Identify your emotions verbally so that your child can learn to map language onto what they feel.

Anxiety: When is it too much?

“I’m late, mom. I’m late! I can’t be late! I have a test… We have to go… NOW!” A moderate amount of anxiety in kids is actually normal, and helps them show up and achieve at school. A little bit of anxiety will help your child study for the next test, hoping to do well. It will get them pumped up for their next big game, help them get all their homework in their backpack, and keep them trying their best. Most high-achievers have learned to harness their anxiety and use it for their benefit, all the way into adulthood.

But when anxiety starts to cause negative behaviors, avoidance, and fear, it turns into a maladaptive force for your child. (A mental health professional would look at the intensity of your child’s distress, the impact on how they are functioning, and the duration of their fears to determine an underlying anxiety disorder.) I’ve worked with children who run away from situations, who refuse to speak to their teachers, who push and shove and mouth off, all resulting from underlying anxiety.

Parents see physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches, occurring frequently. Oftentimes there are negative behaviors, like tantrums and avoidance, which occur at home or on the way to school. Social settings may cause your child significant stress, if they are having difficulty processing the complex relationships of their peers.

If your child is having excessive worry, trouble with uncertainty, and extreme emotions associated with an event, there are some things you can do at home to help alleviate their worries.

1. When children are uncertain, give them choices rather than deciding for them.

“I know Joe’s birthday party sounds overwhelming, but he invited your because he is your friend. Should we try to go for a little bit? How long?”

 

2. Allow children to struggle, make mistakes and learn by trial and error vs. taking over

“I know you were worried about that science test, so you stayed up really late studying. But this morning you seemed extra tired. What’s your game plan for the next science test?”

 

3. Label and accept your child’s emotional response rather than criticizing them

“I can see that this is making you worry. You yelled at your sister earlier, and now you’re being short with me. It’s really hard to give a report in front of the whole class.”

 

4. Promote your child’s development of creative self-help strategies

“Let’s use your three “calm” strategies before we work on this presentation anymore.”

Calming strategies can be anything that works for your child. For example:

*Deep, long breathing (have your child lie on the floor with a book on their belly and try to “push” the book up with each breath”)

*Visual imagery (take a “special journey” to a favorite place by talking about what you see, hear, and feel)

*Give a concrete name to their anxiety (e.g. “The Dragon”) and help them “fight back” mentally to beat their enemy. From “The Anxiety Cure for Kids: A Guide for Parents: “Anxiety is like an imaginary Dragon in your head. The dragon seems to be really scary. You can learn to tame the dragon with help from the Wizard you also have in your own head. The Wizard will teach you powerful magic to tame the anxiety Dragon.”

 

5. Attend to “brave behaviors” and ignore anxious behaviors (crying, frequent questions.)

“That’s good breathing. You are being so brave.”

 

If your child is having heightened levels of anxiety which are negatively affecting their life, it is wise to consult with your pediatrician. Most children do not grow out of untreated anxiety, so the earlier it is treated, the better the prognosis. A therapist can also help educate you in home strategies to make your daily interactions more positive and reassuring for your child.

Sleep, or lack thereof…

Our little Walkie Talkie has been sick, and the recovery is almost more painful than the actual “sick” time. I am reminded again of how important sleep is to maintain a positive level of functioning. I know with my two girls, when they wake up happy and talkative and engaged, they are well-rested. My older students also need their sleep- behavioral problems, sensory overload, and inattention can be cut down by a full night of sleep.

TheInvestigatingParent

It’s like a nightmare I remember only in my…well..dreams. My perfectly sleeping 7 month old daughter has a fever and barely slept a wink all night. Meaning my husband and I barely slept a wink last night. This is the girl who I normally can just waltz into her room, put her in the crib, and say “night night sweetie I love you,” leave the room and not even a peep. Last night I couldn’t put her down without her bursting into tears and crying for long periods of time. I would just rock her to sleep, slowly start to move her over the railing of the crib to put her down, and her eyes would pop open (like one of those dolls we had when we were kids) and she would start crying. So I spent much of the night sleeping off and on in the rocking chair holding…

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Helping your child regulate their own behavior

If you’ve ever tried to control your unruly toddler or your defiant preteen, you understand how impossible it can be.  The bad behaviors that you witness (crying, stomping the floor, rolling the eyes) are often just symptoms of underlying thoughts or anxieties.

My 13-year-old daughter refuses to get out of the car with me at the mall.  She argues and slumps away from me, until finally I just leave her there.  I don’t understand why she acts that way!

Our goal as parents is not to control behaviors, but rather to teach our children how to calm, soothe themselves, and self-regulate their own behavior.  What does that mean for our home life?  It means promoting physical, social, and emotional wellness.  It means teaching your child strategies to calm themselves when agitated or frustrated, release their energy in positive ways, and understand their own body so they can better understand when they need a break.

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