We’ve all been there. Playing with our kids at home, our child gets triggered and ALL chaos ensues. Navigating a meltdown can be hard. This can be a common occurrence for many parents, but when you’re parenting a child with special needs, it can reach a whole new level. I think it is safe to say many of us avoid triggers like the plague.
Recently I attended an evening workshop put on by the charity I work for and we had the privilege of having Carrie Blaske come and speak about the escalation cycle. I have attended one of her workshops before at the Refresh Conference (If you haven’t been and you’re an adoptive or foster parent, stop what you are doing and register NOW! It is next week, seriously!) and her information is always SO valuable. She has trained with Back2Back Ministries and is an Empowered to Connect trainee. A single workshop always leaves me walking away with tangible tools to implement right away, which is exactly what us parents need! No fluffy talk!
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This particular workshop was focused on the escalation cycle (AKA meltdowns) and provided VITAL information I believe we are all missing. It is too important not to share as I have seen a significant improvement in how our meltdowns are managed, and I know this information will help you too!
I am not going to go over the escalation cycle, how it works, and the various tools we can use at each step because Carrie Blaske does a far better job and is trained in this good stuff! If you want to find out more be sure to find out where her next workshop is, or host her to come and speak at your local event! You can also click here where I list some of her calming techniques. The escalation chart from the amazing Seattle Children’s Hospital is also posted below for you to review the various stages on your own.
What I am going to focus on is the “consequence or discipline” portion of a meltdown. While we all have our own unique parenting methods, I think it is fair to say that many parents from my generation (born in the 80’s or before) were raised with the notion that children need consequences when certain behaviors arise. This is still a common parenting technique today. Child swears at parent = child looses video games for a day. Child sneaks out of house = child can’t have friends over for a week. Child throws a glass vase = child missing out on an activity. You get the idea. There are millions of poor choices that children make that can often lead to consequences. It is human nature to seek justice when something we perceive as wrong is done. It is also natural for a parent to provide consequences in an effort to teach their child right from wrong and understand that there are consequences in life. Sometimes with special needs, it may not be the choice of our child, but instead is a behavior related to their invisible disability. In those instances consequences may or may not be appropriate, but a reminder of house rules may be the go-to response instead. It will be up to you to determine whether or not a consequence is appropriate.
For the purpose of this post though, I will assume some sort of consequence is implemented when certain behaviors occur. For those that do not understand consequences but rules are still verbalized, this post will still apply to you.
THE TIMING IS ALL WRONG
Where the majority of us are messing up is the timing we administer a consequence or reiterate the rules. This could be as simple as a conversation about rules of the house and things we don’t do. The majority of us are approaching our children in phase 3 or 4. Review the Escalation Cycle above then continue on to review a couple of examples.
Example 1: Six year old child has been triggered because parent poured tap water instead of cold fridge water and has escalated to phase 3. During the meltdown, the child walks over to the counter and starts throwing glass drinking cups onto the floor, smashing into millions of pieces, while swearing at parent repeatedly. Parent responds by becoming escalated themselves and angrily tells the child that throwing glasses is not OK and they will not be allowed to play on the i-pad for the rest of the day in a desperate attempt to stop the damage. This causes the child to escalate further, throwing more dishes off the counter and swearing more frequently and loudly.
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Example 2: Ten year old child is upset they cannot have ice cream for dinner. They escalate quickly and start slamming doors, throwing things, and screaming at the top of their lungs. In this escalated state, the child ends up hitting a sibling who walks through the scene. Parent waits for the child to stop screaming and throwing things and appears calm, then approaches child and tells them they will not be allowed an activity that afternoon because of the meltdown. Child becomes enraged and starts screaming and throwing things again and attempting to hit the parent.
In example 1, the parent approached the child about their behavior during phase 3, when the child was in an active meltdown and was extremely escalated. It is VERY common for parents to approach their children during this phase. In the 2nd example, the parent waited until the 4th phase, when the child was de-escalating, to approach the child about their behavior. It is even more common for trained parents to approach their children during this 4th phase when it appears the meltdown is over.
This is the number one mistake we are all messing up during a meltdown.
We are approaching our children too soon!
We need to wait allllll the way until Phase 6 to be approaching our children about their behavior. This is not to say we can’t approach our children during a meltdown. But it can’t be about their behavior and resulting consequence. Sometimes when my child is in an active meltdown I might calmly ask if they need a glass of water, if they they would like to go to a quiet room, or some other non-confrontational comment that may help defuse the situation (sometimes they just need to be left alone too as long as they are not harming themselves, others or property). But I cannot attempt a Full-House-Danny-Tanner talk to my child during a meltdown or de-escalation phase. I cannot tell them they have lost x-box for the week, and I cannot remind them of the full list of house rules. This will only result in the escalation cycle repeating itself.
Now I want to say, this is hard. Watching a child have a severe meltdown resulting in property damage or physically hurting someone creates a strong force within a parent to deal with it immediately. It takes a lot of restraint, patience and practice, to get to this point. Instead, we need to be waiting until our child is back at baseline and it is just another typical moment for your child. Only then, can we approach them with our response. Whether it be a consequence “We are all going to pick up the clothes you threw” or discipline “I know you were very upset today but because we don’t hit others in our house, you will not be able to play video games today,” we need to remember to wait for the right time to discuss the ramifications of their behavior. And lets be honest, sometimes it is not our child’s choice and their meltdowns are directly related to their special needs or trauma related past. Sometimes a consequence is the last thing that will help facilitate any learning for our child. But regardless of how to respond, be sure to respond once your child is back to their baseline!
There you have it! Quick and simple! While the application of this takes practice, it is actually such a quick and easy way to drastically change how to approach meltdowns! I hope it will help you navigate your next meltdown and prevent the escalation cycle from continuing!
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