When kids are in a meltdown and the behaviors are going full force, try some of these techniques to help kids calm down and move out of a harmful or ineffective status. Meltdowns are oftentimes a result of sensory systems that aren’t quite right, causing an overload of sensations.
When the body is so overwhelmed or underwhelmed by sensory input, it turns to meltdown mode.
What does a meltdown look like?
Meltdowns occur when sensory input is overloading a child’s sensory system. This might happen fast and result in overwhelming emotions or behaviors. You might see kicking, hitting, punching, or other sensory responses. Kids can shut down when the sensory overload is a slower input. When a meltdown happens, kids need to reset themselves and their sensory systems. The child who is in midst of a sensory overload may have difficulty getting their attention on the strategies outlined below, but they do need to know that they are safe, loved, and that it will be ok.
Meltdowns look like different things to different kids:
For some, it might be laying on the floor and not moving.
For another child, it might be fleeing or bolting.
For another child, a meltdown might look like screaming or hurtful actions.
Still another child might be quiet and hum to block out sensory input.
Just like a meltdown looks different for each individual, so do the strategies that can help move out of that mode. When a meltdown is occurring, it’s best to have an arsenal of tools available in mind. Most important though, is keeping the child’s safety and best interests in mind. Below is a list of meltdown mode tricks and tips to try.
Meltdown Tricks and Tips
Try the following tips and tricks to help kids when they are having a meltdown:
Proprioceptive Input to help with meltdowns
weighted blanket or weighted vest
Crash on a couch or crash pad
Bounce on a therapy ball
Hide under cushions
Exercise: push-ups, sit-ups, burpees
Pull a heavy weight
Punch and squeeze play dough
Bounce on a therapy ball
Get under a mattress
Jump on a trampoline
Sensory-based movement to help with meltdowns
Distractions or a change in environment can help when meltdown mode is in full effect. Add slow movements to these activities such as slow swinging or calmly walking.
Take a nap
Move to another space or room
Practice deep breathing in a quiet space
Take a walk
Run at a park or play at a playground
Turn on music (loud or quiet)
Roll down hills (fast or slow)
Play on swings
Rock in a rocking chair
Slowly spin in an office chair (limit time in spinning as indicated)
Refocus attention from the biggest cause of the meltdown with multiple-system sensory input:
Talk about impulses and jot them down in an Impulse Control Journal.
Close your eyes and imagine
Put static on the radio
Set a timer to scream/run/cry/dance/jump
Write a story
Act out frustrations with puppets, figures, or dolls
Get in water: take a shower, bath, play in water, swim
Calming Tactile Sensory Input to help with meltdowns
Incorporate calming tactile sensory input into a calm down space or room:
Rub on lotion
Brush your hair
Heated microwave (scented or unscented) bag
Write or draw with a vibrating pen
Use a vibrating toothbrush
Calming foods to help with meltdowns
Try some of these oral sensory motor calming foods:
Suck a smoothie through a straw
Chew on fruit chews or licorice
If any or some of these tips and tricks help, it can be beneficial to talk over the successes with your child. Address things like impulse control in a way that they are able to understand and relate to the meltdown they just experienced. A good way to do this is with the Impulse Control Journal.
What are your best strategies for addressing meltdowns?
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.