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How to Cope with a Child’s Meltdown

As a Play Therapist working with children aged 4-12 years, the dilemma parents consult me about most often is how to cope with an angry child having regular meltdowns. Typically the child’s behaviour at school has deteriorated, their concentration has reduced so they are getting into trouble in class and, at home, struggling to respect parental boundaries and listen to instructions. The parents are at their wits end and everyone feels frazzled.

In these situations, it’s important to remember that children carry what I call an, ‘invisible backpack’ which contains their worries and anxieties. If this isn’t emptied regularly, it feels very heavy, which is when the child starts to act out and get triggered by seemingly random everyday events.

Before you start to help them unpack their backpack, establish if the child has suffered any recent losses- has anyone close died, has a friend left School, has a favourite teacher relocated? Loss causes emotional turmoil which adds weight to their backpacks. Very often this loss is at the root cause of the child’s meltdown as they struggle to cope with the changes caused by loss.

Home tips for unpacking your child’s invisible backpack:

My signature system is called, ‘The 5 As’ which is what I use in my clinical practice to help parents and children reduce the emotional temperature. I have summarised it here for you to use at home. Repeat these steps as often as is necessary to calm yourself and your child:

1.    Acknowledge – your painful feelings – FRUSTRATION for example (why don’t you put your socks in the drawer?)

2.    Accept and own your feelings and WHY they are aroused – (this untidiness annoys me because I was always made to put my clothes in the drawer as a child).

3.    Ask – what do you need right now? You can do this because you have created the space within yourself which makes room for an alternative scenario to emerge, for example your child wants a different clothes drawer.

4.    Affirm – your child’s practical and emotional needs.

5.    Agree on a plan going forward, i.e how are you going to get the new drawer. Make this a project to do together.

I guarantee that once their backpack starts to feel lighter, the emotional temperature will start coming down. They will feel calmer and have more headspace to listen and process their rational thoughts.

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  1. […] would have felt if the tables were turned. This applies to any scenario in which your child has behaved unfavourably towards someone else. They need to learn to be compassionate towards others, respect their […]

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