So, Johnny is having a meltdown again. You made him a grilled cheese when he really wanted a turkey sandwich. He is screaming, crying, and there he goes, on to the floor, thrashing himself around. Johnny has meltdowns often. In fact, he’s averaging about two meltdowns a day, not including acting out at school. Once, Johnny caused a scene at Target and began throwing the toys off of the shelves, in front of everyone. You are somewhat used to this, at this point. Typically you yell at him to calm down, relax, or take a deep breath. Doesn’t work, does it? Maybe you even yell at him to stop and tell him how much trouble he is going to be in. Doesn’t work, does it? Nothing seems to work, at all, ever.
I have a little secret for you. They don’t work. They will never work. Children don’t know what it means to relax or calm down. Children are not great at regulating their breathing, like we are. And children are only going to get more angry and upset if you tell them that they are in trouble. So, yes, you’re right, they don’t work and they never will.
Here is my number one secret for stopping a meltdown in seconds.
No, not the type of grounding we know. Not taking away privileges or telling them they can’t go anywhere. I mean the sensory type of grounding. Grounding means to: engage the five senses.
Research has shown that when children are under stress (having a meltdown), they are also in the ‘fight-or-flight’ mode, which means their stress hormone- cortisol- is very high. Grounding, or using one or more of the five senses, actually regulates this stress hormone and can not only help a child focus their attention elsewhere, but also reduces that stress hormone.
Here are some of my favorite go-to’s for using grounding when a child is having a tantrum:
- See- nature, their pet, a picture of someone they love, pictures of landscapes, or even some of their old art work.
- Touch- Ice cubes, play-doh, blankets, or something fuzzy and warm, Velcro, an ice pack or heating pad.
- Hear- a ‘gong’ noise (you can download a Gong app on your phone), music, or a white noise machine (also available through apps).
- Smell- candles, essential oils, or perfume.
- Taste- lemon or lime (something potent), something hot or very cold.
I recommend making a ‘travel sensory kit’ that is portable and you can keep in your car or even purse. Pack some pictures, a portable ice pack (one that turns cold when you crack it), your phone (with the apps for noises), lavender essential oil, and lemon wedges.
So, next time Johnny is angry, try to pull out your sensory kit and give it a try! I have been known in sessions with my clients to pull out blankets and wrap them up like a burrito, to play classical music, ring my ‘gong’, or give them essential oils to rub on their hands. Its magical to watch a child go from full out tantrum mode to watching a child pick a ‘1’ (from 1-5; 1 being calm to 5 being ‘worst day of my life’) on their paper thermometer by simply handing them play-doh to create something.