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Anger Management Behaviour Management parenting

7 Common Triggers for Meltdowns

One-size-fits-all approaches for reacting to meltdowns don’t work. Supporting a child who is hungry or sick and getting extremely upset the same way as you support a child who has an unmet need for attention makes no sense. Be curious and not judgemental. Identify the trigger.

For teachers and parents, supporting children when they are having a meltdown or tantrum is a stressful experience. As a teacher, when I am working with a child who has entered a full emotional outburst, I become very self-conscious of people watching me and how I handle it. I also enter an emotionally heightened state which impacts on my decision making. I strongly want to help the child calm down and as they are now in a fight-or-flight state, reasoning and logic have gone out the window. At this point, it is about ensuring the safety of the people and objects in the vicinity and waiting for the child to come down from their heightened state.

If meltdowns are a repetitive part of your day, it is time to become a detective and start to decipher why they are occurring. Bishop Desmond Tutu has a great quote that “there comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” This is what we are going to do. If we can find the trigger, we can intervene here and the urge to meltdown will naturally dissipate. There are seven common areas which we need to be curious about and consider.

1. Internal Issues

Are they melting down because they are tired, hungry or sick?

2. Sensory Issues

Is there an issue with noises, smells or something they’re in contact with? Are they becoming bored or over-stimulated?

3. Lack of Structure

Is there a clear structure and routine on the day? Are they aware of what it is and what is expected? (App Recommendation here)

4. Work

Do they hate new or challenging tasks and situations? Do they fear them?

5. Waiting

Do they meltdown when they do not get their desires met instantly? Are they incapable of dealing with disappointment or the word “No”?

6. Self-Esteem

Do they get triggered by threats to their self-esteem like making mistakes, losing a game or being criticised?

7. Attention

Are they reacting negatively to an unmet need for attention or approval? 

From reading through this list, it is evident that we would intervene differently according to the trigger. Treating a child who is sick and melting down the same way as a child who is incapable of dealing with no makes zero sense. Once we have the trigger figured out, we start to work on designing strategies to iron it out. Taking this approach will go upstream from the problem and prevent it before it starts.

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By Barry Whelan

A teacher with a huge interest in improving behaviour, communication and inclusion.

1 reply on “7 Common Triggers for Meltdowns”

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