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4 Step Process to Manage Meltdowns & Deescalate Tantrums

Welcome to Tea & Tips, where we respond to burning questions from parents and educators -- taking aim on one topic at a time, guiding you to improve communication, confidence and calm.

Elaine:
So emotional management shows up in a lot of different ways. Sometimes we manage it by prevention, which we talked about in the video, Prevent Meltdowns in Emotional Kids (using T-A-C-T). And sometimes we manage it with management strategies -- learning to manage meltdowns.

Diane:
Right, and we're talking really about deescalating triggers. So if you got a kid or a co-parent that's in a full on trigger, what do you do to bring it down? And the first thing I always say is to shift from the issue at hand to the trigger. So job number one is stay calm. Job number two is help the person that's with you-

Elaine:
Calm down.

Diane:
... to calm down, because you can't really do the thing that you're doing, like get out the door or finish the homework when somebody is triggered. So you really have to get to a place of real calm.

Elaine:
Well, what's coming up as you say that is, I'm remembering when we struggled with this a lot when my husband and my kids were younger. My husband still wanted to get them out the door, and I was the one saying, "No, we have to stop now. This isn't about getting out the door. Everybody's got to calm down first." And so there is some design with the co-parent around the agreement that when things escalate, we're going to stop and deal with that first.

Diane:
Well, or even yourself because I can imagine myself going, "Okay, we need to calm down so that we can get out the door. We have to calm down so we can get your homework done, so it's not four in the morning when you're finishing your homework." And when we latch those two together, it takes the focus off of the fact that they're two really different things.

Elaine:
Yeah, yeah, for sure.

Diane:
So I think the other piece about triggers is understanding that there's an actual process of escalation. And I think about four levels of escalation. And when you're kind of upset, your ability to go, "Wow, I'm upset, I need to calm down." That's level one. I can calm myself down. Level two might be okay, Elaine's upset and I say, "Okay, Elaine, it looks like you're a little upset. Do you need to take a minute and calm down?" And Elaine can go, "Yeah I do. I'm going to calm down." That's level two.

Elaine:
Just a breath is all I need. Right?

Diane:
Once somebody gets to the third level of escalation, there's so much energy and so much upset in there, they really can't calm down from you telling them. They really can't calm down themselves. They need to let go of some energy. And so whether that's going and doing something that's physical or yelling or doing something, there's actually that energy that's pent up. And that's why a lot of our kids go over the top and they explode after they get to that third level, because

Elaine:
They don't know what to do with it.

Diane:
They don't know how to calm down and they're really too upset to actually calm down. So you have to help them to get rid of some energy so that they can calm down.

Elaine:
And when you tell them to calm down, that just makes them more upset.

Diane:
Exactly.

Elaine:
Right. That just makes it worse. We've talked a lot about fake calm versus real calm. And so what you're really speaking to is the need to sort of really calm down physically, physiologically reclaim your brain so that you can get to that point where you can function again.

Diane:
Well and the other thing that we talk about in Minimize Meltdowns, is this whole idea of do you just let the upset happen? And the reality is that if your kid gets to a certain level of escalation, there is no way for them to calm down. And so you might need to just let the meltdown happen and create some safe space for that.

Elaine:
Yeah. Is that step four?

Diane:
That's not step four but that's when they get to level four.

Elaine:
That's the level four is you just got to get through it, and get to the other side of it and keep everybody safe. Right? So when you're talking about deescalating triggers, it's a management issue. It's an immediate one. You want to shift the focus from the issue that you're dealing with to the trigger itself.

Diane:
And to get into real calm, and then know that once a kid is at a certain point of escalation, it may not be realistic for them to calm down without having a little bit of a blow up at least.

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