Your Child Doesn't Know Why They're Melting Down Either. But We Do.
What to do when your child can’t tell you what’s wrong.
The meltdown came on without any warning and left both of you utterly confused about what caused it. One moment your child seemed relatively calm and in the next moment you had a full scale meltdown on your hands.
You can see the emotions rippling across their face like a fast-moving storm on the horizon. You’ve got about one second until the flood gates open and the wails follow like an air raid siren.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Why won’t my sweet child just tell me what’s wrong so I can fix it?” or maybe, “If only he/she would say something before this happens, I might be able to do something to help.”
And no matter how you go about asking them, they couldn’t tell you even if they wanted to.
I have good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that your precious little one doesn’t have a clue what’s going on either. They’re not reacting to something like taking their favourite toy away or saying no to ice cream for the hundredth time.
This sudden overwhelm is just as mysterious to them as it is to you.
But here’s the good news - once you know what causes the emotional and physical overwhelm that results in tantrums and meltdowns, you’ll realize there are things you can do to help.
Yes, meltdowns and tantrums can be prevented!
It may feel like meltdowns come out of nowhere, but in truth, something is actually causing them.
Meltdowns and tantrums are most often caused by hidden triggers.
There are so many triggers (in our homes, at school, at the store, and everywhere we go) that we’re not aware of because we’re much less sensitive to their effects. Unless you make yourself aware of them, they’ll continue to push your child over the edge into misbehaving, acting out, throwing tantrums, or a full scale meltdown.
Some of these triggers are out of our control, but most of them are manageable.
And managing the triggers results in calm, happy children that have a grip on their emotions, triggers, and self-control.
The Hidden Triggers in Our Homes
Where are you sitting right now? Can you see anything in your immediate environment that you think might trigger a meltdown in your child?
Keep those questions in mind while you read this post, and I’ll ask them again at the end. I guarantee your answers will change dramatically.
Right now, in the room where you’re reading this, there are numerous things happening that you’re able to tune out and ignore all day everyday.
Imagine not having those filters built in. If you pay close attention, you might be able to drop some of those filters and see things as they really are - the flicker rate of the tv, the yellow hue of the table lamp, the sound of the heater running in the next room, the quiet hum of your laptop, or the brightness of the screen on your phone.
You probably can’t smell what’s in the room right now because you’ve grown accustomed to it, but if someone were to walk in from outside, the smells would be easy to pick out. The lemon scent of a freshly cleaned kitchen, the smell of garlic from dinner, and so on.
Now imagine a particularly sensitive child trying to deal with all of these triggers at once - a light that flickers in a way they can’t ignore, the whine of electronics that are grating on their nerves, and the fumes from freshly cleaned counters or the laundry soap their clothes were washed with - all overwhelming their thoughts, lungs, heart, and nervous system at the same time.
Just thinking about it elevates my stress levels! I can’t fathom trying to live like this day in and day out everyday. But as parents, that’s exactly what we need to be aware of.
We all have them but some of us are better at handling them than others. Kids often struggle with their emotions regardless of their health or maturity. Kids with learning difficulties struggle even more because their brains are simply wired differently. Their brains struggle desperately to handle the intensity of their feelings at an age where they don’t have a lot of experience with taming them.
And it’s not just their own emotions. Mum’s mood has a huge effect on how kids behave too. Even visitors coming into our home can influence our more empathetic or sensitive children.
When we switched to the GAPS diet, both of my children felt better almost overnight. It really was that effective.
We went from kids who couldn’t sleep, were having daily meltdowns and weren’t able to concentrate in school, to calm, happy, and social kids.
I know that sounds too good to be true but we are living proof that food has that big of an impact.
Again, some of it goes back to the long list of chemicals in most foods these days. But even all-natural products can affect people negatively if their body isn’t equipped to process it correctly.
Many learning difficulties and behaviour problems have been linked to gut problems, and that’s no surprise at all when you discover how much the gut regulates emotions, stress, and depression.
Foods like gluten, dairy, and sugar dramatically affect gut balance and can make an existing imbalance much worse.
This one’s a no-brainer really. Limiting the exposure your kids have to stressful situations is obviously going to help. Listening to Mum and Dad having a row is going to stir up any child.
But, have you ever considered what your child hears on the news every evening? In many households the news is considered essential viewing so our kids can learn about what's going on in the world.
But many of our kids take on this information and worry about it a lot more than we think they do. It’s another good reason to turn off the tv and pay close attention to the other media your child is exposed to.
While it’s important that kids with learning difficulties don’t get over-stimulated, it’s just as important that they don’t have too much time on their hands either. As in all things, balance is the name of the game.
You know how weird, random, thoughts occasionally pop into your head and you find yourself wondering “where on earth did that come from?”
Kids get those thoughts too. As adults, we are able to dismiss them but our kids often brood over them and these can become very frightening indeed.
When the triggers we can’t control cause a meltdown
We can’t control helicopters flying overhead, thunderstorms, the perfume wafting off the neighbor who stopped by for a moment, or the loud music playing at the grocery store.
No matter how careful we are, occasionally something might slip through the cracks and it’s important that you’re prepared for that. Planning how to manage them before they occur is the best place to start.
Include your child in the process of creating a plan for when meltdowns happen. Ask them what they would like you to do when they feel they are out of control. Make sure you both agree on where to go or what they should do.
Here are some ideas to discuss:
Have an escape plan. Give your child permission to say they need a break, whether it’s at the mall, at home, at school or wherever. And when that moment comes, have designated safe spaces they can go to relax. It might be your car in the parking lot, the nurses office, their bedroom, or anywhere they feel safe.
You can transform your vehicle and their bedroom into a safe haven by eliminating as many triggers as possible and giving them the tools they need to block the world out.
If they feel triggered by things they see, keep an eye mask on you that they can use as needed. If sounds tend to bother them, keep a pair of noise canceling headphones.
Planning ahead like this not only ensures you have the right tools on hand when you need them, but it also empowers your child to recognize his or her own needs and feel supported when they speak up about them.
Essential oils influence moods and emotions without forcing anything on your child
I’m a firm believer in the healing powers of essential oils. However, years of experience have taught me that not all oils are equal. I only use doTERRA oils because I know that they’re high quality, therapeutic-grade, and sourced ethically.
Essential oils are fantastic for influencing moods and emotions without forcing anything on your child. I use them daily to prepare my kids for school, help them wind down after school, and go to sleep at night.
I also use oils to create my own cleaning products, air fresheners, and condiments. All of these things (when you use the right oils for the right purpose) are part of my arsenal to reduce the meltdowns my kids go through.
This post has talked about how to identify hidden triggers and essential oils are often the hidden remedies to those triggers. A few drops in a diffuser lasts for ages. You can even put the oils directly onto children’s skin if you mix with fractionated coconut oil.
A couple of drops on a tissue placed under the pillow is another way you can use oils in a non-invasive way to influence your child’s health.
If you’re new to essential oils here’s a short list of some of the best ones you can use for reducing meltdowns.
Lavender - If you haven’t got any of the other oils handy, you can always use lavender as an alternative. It’s calming, helps with sleep, and reduces anxiety.
Peppermint - Has a calming and cooling effect, so great in the diffuser or on a tissue under a pillow. It also helps with digestion and gut balance which helps balance emotions at the source.
Green Mandarin - The citrusy aromas of Green Mandarin make it a fantastic oil for soothing nerves and uplifting moods. It can be diffused or added to food/drinks.
Sandalwood - Relaxing and calming and also works well with lavender in a diffuser.
Cedarwood - This is another oil that’s good for sleeping. There’s just something about the smell of a forest that calms us all.
Bergamot - I wouldn’t recommend using this at night when you want your kids to go to sleep but bergamot is great for increasing feelings of joy. It can also help to circulate the blood.
Roman Chamomile - Not only does it have calming effects, it’s known for its anti-inflammatory properties so if your child has aches or pains that trigger meltdowns, this could help.
Meltdowns And Overwhelm Are Stressful But Manageable
However distressing it is for you to watch your child having a meltdown, it’s 100 times worse for them. Think of it like experiencing nearly every negative emotion there is, all at once.
That must be terrifying. Particularly for older children who know that how they’re behaving isn’t right but they still don’t know how to stop it. I know I’d be thinking “what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I calm down?”
It’s our job as parents to keep our children safe and raise them to be productive and happy adults. As parents of children with auto-immune issues, learning difficulties, and ASD, that job is harder because our kids have so much extra in their lives.
But when we get it right, aren’t the rewards so much extra as well?
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