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Managing meltdowns top tips

A meltdown is best understood as a panic attack, where the child is completely overwhelmed, rather than wilfully naughty or defiant. Traditional discipline is largely ineffective for meltdowns, as the child is not in a state to learn anything.

During a meltdown

  • Try to keep calm and be aware that your own feelings can have an impact.
  • This is not a battle to be lost or won, but more a ‘crisis’ to manage.
  • Prioritise keeping your child and others safe.
  • Keep language short and simple and talk calmly to your child. Try using visuals.
  • Do not use any demands.
  • Give your child some space and time to calm down. This might mean:
    • guide them towards a safe space such as bedroom, garden, out of classroom, tent
    • stay with or near your child
    • cuddle and stroke them if they find this comforting
    • follow at a safe distance if they run off
  • Avoid threatening consequences, punishments or rewards. It is likely that your child is beyond being able to reason and unable to respond appropriately. This may further fuel the meltdown.
  • When they are beginning to calm, it may be helpful to offer verbal reassurances or physical affection. Such as “would you like a hug until you feel better?”

After a meltdown

  • Meltdowns are exhausting. Give your child chance to rest in a safe place and offer them a drink and a snack.
  • Reassure the child that it is all over. Tell them that you still love them and you understand that was really difficult for them.
  • Some children may feel guilty or be angry with themselves. Avoid trying to discuss the meltdown straight after or continuing to refer to it if your child has moved on.
  • Some children can find it helpful to talk about the incident. However, this kind of debriefing can be too stressful for many and may cause another meltdown.
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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: PSY26

Resource Type: Article

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