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How to Calm Meltdowns and Tantrums

All kids throw tantrums. They fuss, they scream, they cry and sometimes, they even throw things. They do this at home and in public because they're tired, because they don't get what they want and because many kids, especially those with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) or autism, have a hard time regulating their emotions. If you have a child with autism or ASD, what is often perceived as a tantrum is actually a sensory meltdown triggered by an overload of their sensory system.  Read on to learn how to manage and reduce the occurrence of emotional outbursts and de-escalate them if and when they do occur.

Stay Calm

Meltdowns can feel overwhelming, especially when they happen in public, so the number one rule for handling one is to remain calm. If you're angry and annoyed this will show up in your body language and your child will be able to sense your panic which will further overload their sensitive system. By staying calm, however, you are modeling the behavior you expect from your child and providing a safe space for them to work through their emotions.

Teach Coping Strategies

Every child is unique, and what works with one child may not work with another. For this reason, it's best to try out different coping strategies to find two or more that your child really responds to. For example, if your child gets frustrated easily while learning and you see signs of a meltdown coming, teach your child these coping strategies. 

  • Prompt your child to take ten deep breaths.
  • Prompt your child to close his eyes and count to ten (You can combine this with deep breathing exercises).
  • Teach your child to regulate their emotions by singing their favorite song or hugging their favorite stuffed animal.

Positive Reinforcement

Teach your child what you expect from them by clearly laying out your expectations and rewarding good behavior or recognizing their attempts to self regulate. For example, tell your child that she will get a specific reward for good behavior and/or using coping strategies to regulate emotions while on a trip to the grocery store. Find what works best to motivate your child and then use that to set in motion a cycle of good behavior and positive reinforcement.

While these tips can help calm a child, the best help is prevention. Because children with ASD have a hard time understanding and regulating their emotions, parents should spend time helping them learn how to do this when potential triggers cannot be avoided.

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