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Prevent Meltdowns in Emotional Kids (using T-A-C-T)

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 intensity in kids whatever their age -- whether it's teenagers with hormone issues (we've got a question about that) or younger kids who are bouncing off the walls, or pushing back. Whatever it is, when it comes to emotions, our kids feel things a lot, right?

Diane:
Right. We talk about this a lot in Minimize Meltdowns, and there's two pieces of it: prevention and management. Let’s talk about prevention.

Elaine:
We have a strategy we teach in Minimize Meltdowns that's really cool, and it's called TACT. Use T.A.C.T.

Diane:
Right. T-A-C-T

Diane:
The first T is for triggers. And that's about understanding that everybody has triggers, and they have things that set off the meltdowns. If you understand what it is that sets your kid off-

Elaine:
Right. What are the triggers?

Diane:
... whether it's saying no, or whether it's a transition, or whether it's doing homework-

Elaine:
Whenever you ask them to do anything, right?

Diane:
Right, exactly. Understanding and knowing what those triggers are is a great first step to prevention.

Elaine:
And ultimately helping them recognize that they're getting triggered, too. But the first step is for you. One way to understand this is to keep a trigger journal - Take a few days and just notice when they get triggered, and figure out what's going on.

Diane:
It may be a certain time of day.

Elaine:
Are they hungry?

Diane:
One parent of mine, whose kid had a meltdown every day at four o'clock, figured out, "Oh, she's hungry. After school ... Let's get her a snack." And it changed their world.

Elaine:
Recognize the triggers. And then the second one, the A, stands for: Avoid the triggers. Yes, I know what it feels like we're walking on eggshells sometimes. But sometimes if you can avoid something from escalating, it's worth the effort to do that while you're working on helping them learn to manage.

Diane:
A great example is I had a couple who noticed that their kid would always have a meltdown when they went out to dinner. Because the food takes so long to get there. Once they kind of tuned into what was going on, they could bring things to entertain the child. They could make sure the child had dinner before they went out to dinner, or they could choose to leave the child at home. But it's that sort of consciousness of what is really going on that allowed them to use avoidance.

Elaine:
Instead of: "I need them to behave at dinner," they shifted to: "Okay. If I avoid this thing that triggers them, everybody's going to be happier." All right. The C stands for consistency ... and this is hard for a lot of us, I know. But just try to be consistent around it. If you know that there's a trigger around hunger after school, try to consistently have a snack available after school. Just little things to anticipate what might become a trigger more consistently.

Diane:
And then the last T is transitions. A lot of times, the main trigger is change. We talked about kids and hyper-focus, and the fact that they get in their mind: "Okay, I'm going to read my book. I'm going to do this." You know, they have a ... Ferrari brain

Elaine:
And no brakes.

Diane:
And all of a sudden it's like, "No, you don't get to read your book right now because you have to go to ..."

Elaine:
Music lessons.

Diane:
Exactly. And they don't remember or realize it. So, really paying attention to transitions, giving them warnings, preparing them for what's next, those sorts of things. There are a lot of tools we teach around transitions, but just really being conscious of the fact that even disappointment is transition.

Elaine:
Yep. Yep. Okay. Bottom line, use TACT triggers, avoid them consistently, and anticipate transitions. There's a lot more about that if you're interested in Minimize Meltdowns. And that's all.

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