You’ve likely witnessed a meltdown in a store or park. The child is screaming and his increasingly embarrassed parent seems on the verge of her own meltdown.
Meltdowns happen, acknowledges Jed Baker, Ph.D., author of the new book, No More Meltdowns: Positive Strategies for Managing and Preventing Out-Of-Control Behavior. "Part of being a child in some ways is having less problem-solving ability than adults so there’s more things that can overwhelm a youngster."
That said, Baker is convinced parents can stop meltdowns. Part quick guidebook to help parents figure out why meltdowns happen, part emergency management tool kit to calm a meltdown in progress, No More Meltdowns springs from Baker’s 20 years of experience working with children with special needs and his own kids.
"What I’m trying to get parents to do is to interpret their kids’ behavior, not as a buck to their own authority, usually that’s not the case, it’s the child not having the skills," Baker says.
In the book, he identifies the meltdown triggers and offers suggestions to avoid them. "The takeaway really is to have an approach to do a little more reflective thinking when you have a repeat problem and that involves as a first step to try to keep track of when the problem happens," he says.
Holidays often bring fuel for meltdowns, but a prepared parent can keep sparks from flying, he says. Avoid these triggers:
• Boredom. Make sure you bring activities your kids enjoy even if other kids are expected to attend.
• Lack of attention. Parents get busy with preparations. "Kids want to be seen as valuable and productive," he says. "Even if it takes you longer or it’s harder to have them help, it might be easier in the long run to avoid challenging behavior."
• Food. Provide food your child likes and limit time at the table. While it is reasonable to have your child be part of the family meal, it may not be reasonable to have them sit for two or three hours, he says.
If a meltdown does happen, act quickly and calmly.
"I’m asking parents to make the shift in their thinking from having a logical discussion to distraction and soothing," he says, adding he’s always prepared with Yu-Gi-Oh! cards. "There’s nothing wrong with logical discussion until you realize you are getting nowhere. When a kid is hijacked by their emotions they are not reasonable and no amount of reasoning is going to help you."
Tip to use
If you see a meltdown coming, don’t reprimand your child in public. That often escalates the problem because it embarrasses them. Create a secret signal indicating you need to talk in private or get them out of the situation.