How to diffuse your child’s meltdown

Tips for dealing with tantrums from movement specialist Dr. Lori Baudino
Published on 10/05/2018 at 12:31 PM EDT

A parent typically describes a child’s meltdowns as whining, nagging, screaming, stomping, pulling, throwing and even biting. The moment when the house seems to get smaller in size, walls close in, and there’s no safety net in sight. Parents may feel that they are in an attack zone during a tantrum. So how can we truly stay safe in our own space and body in order to support a child and help him or her settle down?

We turned to Dr. Lori Baudino, a practicing clinician with a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and Masters in Creative Arts Therapy-Dance/Movement Therapy, for the answer. She employs the therapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of individuals. In her private practice, she works with children and families to help them understand that the body, mind and spirit are interconnected and that life is experienced through movement. Dr. Baudino’s approach allows children to put words into action, understand individual sensory and motor preferences, express emotional needs, and support overall integration and well-being.

Here she provides five tips for parents to help “move,” or diffuse your child’s next tantrum:

  1. Take away Analysis, Reasoning and Talking. In this initial moment, parents may want to talk at a child, telling them they are over-reacting, that they need to calm down, and quiet down. Don’t do that. This puts you, the parent, and the child right on opposite sides of the fight. 
  2. Safety First. Just get your child to a quiet room. Think about it, where does your child play and appear most alert and calm? Bring them there.
  3. Check your system. A parent needs extra protection in these moments. Notice the sensations in your body. Do your arms tense up? Do you feel like you can’t hear (because it’s too loud)? Do you feel like there is too much going on in your visual view? Immediately tapping into these experiences allows you an opportunity to change the sensations. Then you will know whether you need to walk out of the room for a moment, take a drink of water or close your eyes. 
  4. Say what you see. Noticing the body allows the parent to be accurate in their understanding of the event. Instead of labeling a feeling state, instead just notice and acknowledge the actions, and movements in front of you. Your child will listen, look at his/her body (“wow, I really am jumping up and down”) and then make a choice to change their movement state. 
  5. Prevention. First and foremost, notice if your child has had any dietary, sleep or toileting changes. It’s simple, but true: Children will show upsets in relation to these areas of functioning. Second, having a space to unload and reboot as part of coming home. Set up a room to roll around and make some noise after a long day of school, or a quiet corner for children who need that. 

With these five strategies in place, you are on your way to making more positive connections. Remember to give yourself some love too—it is certainly a hard job to deal with a meltdown. Stay in your own body, breathing, and moving through it all!

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