You’re standing in your kitchen washing dishes when suddenly your 10 year old child comes walking in. He asks if he can have an ice cream sandwich. Dinner is in 5 minutes so you calmly let him know not right now, but after dinner. Unfortunately, this tried and true method of delaying the “yes” doesn’t work and your child begins to meltdown. I’m not talking your average meltdown. Instead he immediately shouts out “whatever f*** sh** a**hole! I don’t even care!” Next thing you know he is screaming at the top of his lungs, flings the nearest glass cup off the counter, and is headed towards the dining room chairs that he proceeds to flip over. This doesn’t slowly progress to this point…it happened IMMEDIATELY after you said “not right now.” If you’re one of my adoptive/special needs readers, than you’re likely nodding your head yes. We have all been there, and unfortunately, I know many of us are there every single day, and sometimes multiple times a day.
Having a meltdown/tantrum is certainly not new territory. I’m sure we have all read multiple books on strong willed children, defiant children, and more. I’ve tried everything. Time-ins, time-outs, behavior charts, positive parenting, redirection, magic 1-2-3, choices, and more. While some tricks work some of the time, I think it is ALWAYS helpful to have more tools in the tool belt to tackle the tantrums when they arrive. So why not reward their behavior instead? I’m sure you haven’t tried that yet..surely!
Before you turn away and think I am a complete nut…hang on a bit longer and keep reading. I promise, it won’t be as bad as you’re thinking.
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I recently went to the best conference I have ever been to, called Refresh, in Seattle. It is a conference for adoptive and foster parents, and quite honestly could take up an entire post on how wonderful it is. Maybe I will do that next. But beyond being wonderful and amazing, and having a great time being away with 10 of my friends and no kids, I learned SO much. And I am not just talking about just basic history, or theory, or symptoms, etc. I learned a ton of hands-on-skills when dealing with special needs; specifically children with brain based disorders and a history of trauma.
Enter mom with children with FASD jumping up and down with excitement.
Anytime I can learn a new tool that aids me in my parenting journey, I am THRILLED! Two of the workshops I attended really stood out to me, one lead by Carrie Blaske and the other by Cindy Lee. It is no surprise that both of them are trained through the Empowered to Connect principles.
Now I have to disclose that these methods are geared towards those parenting children with special needs. Some of these tools can certainly be used on anyone, but some of them, might just make your child’s behavior worse if used on someone with full brain function. Please don’t go start implementing these tools then come back to me in 10 years when your child is grown and suddenly demanding bubble gum because they just got suspended from school.
Ok. So what are these tools I am so excited about? They aren’t new, but they were focused all in a couple of conversations, which excited me. It is a combination of utilizing the midline and proprioception when approaching a meltdown. FASD is a brain disorder that affects the midline of the brain. Many other brain based disorders are similarly affected, such as ADHD and trauma based challenges. It is important to note that with FASD and other trauma related behaviors, the child is often not misbehaving because they want to misbehave, but instead because they cannot utilize their prefrontal cortex at that moment and are having a response to something in their life that has triggered them. If you change your perspective from them behaving badly to them instead needing help accessing the frontal part of their brain, it will improve your ability to navigate the behavior immensely. Then, rather than viewing it as rewarding “bad” behavior, you can see it as navigating “challenging” behavior.
So one of the first, and easiest tasks you can do is the midline squat. I won’t go into the scientific reasoning for any of these tools, since I am not a doctor, or an OT, or anything else even remotely resembling an expert in this area, but I will tell you the basic tool. The midline squat is when you get your child to take their right hand and cross it over to hold the left ear, while taking their left hand and crossing it over to hold their right ear (there are pressure points in the ear lobe), causing the child to use a different area of the brain when the arms cross over the midline of the body. Next, have your child squat while holding their ears. The combination of the squat, the midline crossover and the ear pressure points is a great way to calm down your child and open up other parts of the brain. This tool is best used for a child who is not TOO escalated, and can be used for anyone. The last thing you want to attempt is try and convince a child throwing chairs to stop and do their squats. In less intense situations, however, it is as simple as teaching your child to do their “squat” whenever they feel them self getting out of control or if you are in the beginning or middle of a meltdown. Once your child has calmed down you can move on to deal with their poor decisions or behavioral challenge afterwards.
The next tool is the one that will feel wrong with every inch of your body. This tool is great for kids who are in the height of their meltdowns and you are trying to calm them down before it escalates further, anyone gets hurt or something gets damaged. They are also great to use during an activity where you would like to prevent a meltdown, such as another child’s Christmas play, or navigating the grocery store. For this instance, you are going to give your child a lollipop or dum dum. Yes, you heard me correctly. Your child is throwing toys across the room, refusing to listen, and screaming at the top of their lungs. You are going to walk over, hand them a lollipop, and wait. Because who doesn’t think giving a child a lollipop is the smartest thing to do when dealing with bad behavior? Well wait a minute….remember what I mentioned earlier…it isn’t bad behavior, it is them needing help accessing their frontal brain. If you view it from this angle, it might help just a bit. The sucking is what creates the magic with this tool, and sugar certainly helps. By sucking on the lollipop the child’s heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels are all lowered. There is a reason babies like soothers so much! The reason a lollipop works so well vs. a non-food related item, such as as a soother or chewy toy, is that it is a sudden burst of sweet, delicious flavor; it is not going to take much convincing for them to utilize this tool. You likely won’t convince your 10 year old to suck on a soother when they are in the middle of a meltdown. Now don’t get me wrong…handing your melting down child a lollipop WILL feel wrong. It will. But you are not rewarding their behavior, you are simply helping them calm down in a moment of crisis. Kids with brain based disorders and trauma cannot access the area of the brain that is required to calm them self down, so you must be their brain for them. By handing them a lollipop you are helping them do this. I don’t recommend a lollipop to just any child, but if you know your child suffers from a brain disorder or trauma, then do it. I know it is hard and will feel like you are going against everything you know as a parent, but I promise, it will help.
The next tool is very similar to the lollipop tool. Not all children will respond as well to each tool though, so it is helpful having a few different tools to pull out, to keep it fresh, and mix it up as needed. The gum is a tool that is excellent for a child who is in an extreme tantrum and you need to calm them down right away before things get out of hand. Start by handing them several pieces of bubble gum. Yes, I said several pieces (insert gasp, look of shock and horror). The goal here is for your child to be chewing on several pieces of gum for 10 minutes to initiate another stress reducing, calm period. The act of chewing down on a very large piece of gum, forcing the muscles to work hard, is where the magic comes in with this tool. I know what you’re thinking if you’re anything like me: “We don’t allow gum in our house.” Yes. I am with you people!! Gum is my arch nemesis and I hate finding it in my carpet, my bed sheets, the furniture, and other unique places. In this instance, however, you are going to have them sit and chew it with you. Have them take a seat on the couch or a nearby chair, and chew the giant wad of gum for a few minutes. Once they have calmed down you can make them spit it out, and hand them a single piece of gum to continue on the calming effect. Is it risky having gum in the house? Oh my word, yes. I cringe just thinking about it. But is it SO INCREDIBLY WORTH IT to calm down a child who is incredibly escalated? YES!!
Now here comes the hardest tool to swallow of them all. I leave it up to you when you turn to this reserve tool. Maybe it is intense meltdowns, medium meltdowns, or maybe just dangerous meltdowns. At any rate, use it when you feel you need it, but don’t feel bad. If your child is in the middle of a rage, things are quickly spiraling out of control, then offer your child 15 minutes on their ipad or iphone. I know. I KNOW. It goes against everything you believe. Screen time under the best of circumstances is just wrong, but during a tantrum? I must be kidding. I. Wish. I. Was. But nope! This tool is used purely to calm down a child and be able to move past the meltdown. Does this mean you are forgetting about what might have happened? No. But you are not going to succeed at teaching your child anything while they are in the middle of a massive meltdown. In this instance, you allow the child 15 minutes to calm down, then calmly go and tell them when their time is up. You might have a child who will do well with 5 minute warnings that time is almost up, or you might have a child that just wants to be left alone until the time is done. Only you know what will work best for your child. Then once the time is up, your child has calmed down, then you can go and attempt a “redo” for whatever might have happened. “Redo’s” are a tool taught through Empowered to Connect, so I won’t get into how they look in this post, but I do encourage you to read The Connected Child to find out more.
Now I know none of us entered parenthood thinking we would be giving our children lollipops, bubble gum and screen time when they were misbehaving. I am sure we can all agree, however, that parenting a child with special needs or a history of trauma really does require a different type of parenting. We are no longer typical, and have to think outside the box to ensure our children succeed. As long as you remember your child is not intentionally acting badly, and view it as instead a time when they need our help, this will all become a bit easier. But don’t worry if it feels wrong at first. Once your meltdowns go from 2 hours to 10 minutes, you will become a believer.
And for any of you out there cringing at the thought of all this sugar…BREATHE. When parenting a child with special needs or from trauma, we MUST choose our battles. As long as your child is brushing their teeth, eating other healthy foods throughout the day, and doesn’t have a medical condition preventing this sugar, then it will be ok. Ensuring everyone in the house is safe, calm, and able to navigate their space is far more important than a bit of extra sugar each day.
A few other handy tools to help calm down your children in the above manner include:
- Drinking through a straw
- Jumping on a mini trampoline
- Blowing bubbles
- Blowing a pinwheel
- The Mustache (place finger on upper lip so it looks like a mustache…pushes on a pressure point)
For more helpful ideas be sure to check out Why I Gave ADHD Medication a Chance!
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