What is a Meltdown?
A meltdown is when an individual looses all control and is at the pinnacle of fight or flight. All sense of reason and the ability to regulate their emotions may be completely lost.
What is a meltdown? is wonderfully described in detail by the PDA Society.
Meltdowns may take the form of explosive outbursts that may include the use of aggressive verbal comments combined with physical violence towards property or / and other people. It is important to understand that the individual is not making a conscious decision to display these behaviours, therefore the individual cannot make a conscious decision to stop. A meltdown is not caused by and cannot be ended by an act of will from the individual experiencing it.
Other individuals may experience internal meltdowns. In this instance the individual may become extremely upset, sob for hours, run off and hide in a safe place and may sometimes self harm. The internal feelings of the individual is likely to be the same as those that have explosive meltdowns but it may just be that the end reaction to these feelings is expressed in a different way.
My daughter used to have explosive and violent meltdowns but due to maturing years, self awareness and because she is now better able to self regulate her emotions she now experiences internal & emotional meltdowns. She describes these as being more difficult for her to experience because none of the internal combustion is released. It remains inside and leaves her drained for days following the event.
Triggers and How to Manage a Meltdown
This image describes the triggers for my daughter’s meltdowns and also how we managed meltdowns.
Managing Meltdowns again is wonderfully described in depth by the PDA Society.
Rather than sanction meltdowns, which would have not been productive for our child, we instead focused on avoiding them in the first place. For us, prevention was a better and more realistic proposition than just expecting her to no longer have them due to the threat of a perceived sanction. If a meltdown was beyond her control, then what use would a sanction have in stopping something that she had no control of managing?
Following a meltdown we try to give her lots of love and reassurance. During the period when violent meltdowns were prolific we tried to gently re-enforce, during calmer periods, that it wasn’t ok to hit people or to destroy property and to help her find other means of expressing herself and releasing that internal combustion. While we understood and empathised with her that very often these actions were beyond her control, we were also concerned that this method of dealing with an internal build up of anxiety was not going to be copeable with or acceptable as she grew older and stronger.
Perhaps this gentle intervention helped her to develop other strategies as she grew. Although the internal meltdown is more difficult for her to manage at least it is more preferable than her getting into real trouble with the police or with her no longer being able to live with us due to the possibility that continued violence from a rapidly growing child would, at some stage, simply become unlivable with.
Approaches that helped us to eliminate explosive meltdowns
- Reduced demands and non negotiable boundaries to a bare minimum
- Addressed sensory issues
- Identified triggers and either removed them or worked around them
- Gave her as much control over her own environment and the people in it as possible
- Adopted a very indirect style of communication
- Used only natural consequences and rewards
- Helped her to identify when she was not coping and what she could do about it i.e. remove herself from the situation, have one to one with a preferred adult for time out, throw something soft and unbreakable as a release and so on.
- When meltdowns did occur, despite our best efforts, we would reflect back and come up with alternative plans around the situation for the future.
Managing Meltdowns is a YouTube video by the wonderful Neville Starnes and is a must to watch.