You are walking with your 5-year-old child in a store. Suddenly an alarm goes off unexpectedly. The Cashier forgot to remove the sensor on a blouse. People look up, see it is not a big deal and continue on with their day. Your child begins to hold his ears, scream, and cry. It is very difficult to explain to someone that your child is not being a brat, or stubborn, or having a tantrum. A meltdown occurs when a child becomes overstimulated and is unable to cope. As a result, they go into a sympathetic response causing a meltdown. A tantrum is when a child is in control of their behavior and is acting out for attention. A tantrum can usually be handled. Since you are unable to control your environment at all times, you must learn how to attempt to minimize the meltdowns.
1. Be Aware Of Possible Triggers.
If you are a parent of a child with Sensory Processing Disorder, you are aware of many triggers. Crowds, noises, or even textures can overwhelm a sensory child. Keep a diary or logbook of any situations that can trigger your child. It is important to relay information such as what works and what doesn’t work. If your child is going to school, camp, or daycare, sharing your knowledge of how to avoid situations and calm your child should be shared with other professionals.
2. Have A Sensory Calming Bag
This bag could contain items such as noise-canceling headphones, a stress ball, a sock buddy, a fidget toy, and a visual light-up toy. Anything that you know helps distract and calm your child. Having these on hand can help shorten the time of the meltdown but also allows your child to know you are there and have the coping tools to help.
3. Stay Calm
When your child is having a meltdown, it is hard to remain calm. Whether you are out in public or in your home. When your child is having a meltdown, it is possible for them to hit or throw items. Keeping your voice calm and not making any quick movements help create a calming environment. By doing this, it will help your child feel safe and be able to calm down.
4. Be Prepared
If you are able to identify the trigger, and the trigger is unavoidable, prepare for it. I instruct the parents I work with to provide calming sensory input prior to a possible trigger. For example, if a child does not like getting their haircut, you should have them warm up with exercises, swings, deep pressure, and/ or a massage at least 20 minutes prior to the haircut. Pack music or a movie that they could watch instead of focusing on the haircut. This will help acclimate your child and make the situation more tolerable.
Having a strong understanding of what helps your child and what triggers your child is so important. The other big key is patience! As always, send me a message if you have any questions!
Sarah Appleman MS, OTR/L is the author of “Play With Your Food” and is a specialist in her field.