I’m going to give you my three top tips on managing meltdowns. I know these things can move like a tsunami, they can move fast, and they can accelerate rather quickly. If you see one on the horizon then it works even better but you know if it’s all guns blazing already. The meltdown is in full force and one of the most important things for you to do is for you to make sure that your intonation, your tone of voice, is not too far off from where they are using their tone of voice from the mid meltdown.
Let me give you an example of what that might sound like. Let’s imagine that I have a young person doing full Tasmania devil in front of me. My response may sound something like “Okay, I can see that you’re really stressed out and we’ve got to gradually get ourselves back to a place where we can communicate about what’s going on here. Because I don’t understand what you’re saying to me right now while you’re making that noise”. You’re gradually going to bring it lower, lower and lower so you’ve got to do some sort of matching with your pitch in your intonation, gradually, reduce it. This is called pacing and leading. This means that you do what they do and you do what they do a bit more and you do it a bit more and then gradually you begin to shift and change. Because it’s like you’ve hooked them in by having that rapport with them then they will follow you. But if you are mismatching which is when they’re in one place and you’re in another you’re never going to be able to lead them to where it is you want to get them to go because they’re too hyped up, they’re just not going to be able to tune into it and hear it.
The next point is about you managing your own emotional state. Even though you may have to elevate your tone of voice so that you’re able to match them in what they’re doing it’s really important that you are doing that as part of a performance. That you don’t stop believing that state that you are mimicking. Don’t get into it too much, you’ve got to think about yourself as being an actor or an actress at this particular time. You’ve got to play the role of being “I’ve hiked up with you and I’m going to gradually bring you back down again”. Rather than getting yourself hyped up with them and then you start to feel that hyped up feeling and then you start to be hyped up with yourself and then you’re both up there and now we’ve got ourselves in a right old sorry mess.
In maintaining that hand on the gear stick, what you need to do is to make sure that you bring yourself and them down as quickly and swiftly as they can follow you. But also remember that this is a performance that you are delivering, your job here is to get them to calm down. It’s not to get tangled up in the content or the detail of the complaint that they have or the bad things that they’re saying to you. You’ve got to be kind of unoffending, and you’ve got to be disconnected from the emotional content that they may be throwing in your direction. Sometimes, you know, kids can be a bit vicious! Sometimes they can be really unkind. So don’t let yourself get hooked into that drama that they’re creating because otherwise, you’ll become part of the system and then it’s much more difficult to pull you both back out of it.
The next thing that I would like you to remember but also to utilize when you speak to them on the other side of the meltdown is this. We are going to refer to this meltdown as that young person being in a place of pain at that time they were having the meltdown. We don’t want to fall into the trap of either blaming them for bad things that they might have said or done or broken during that meltdown. We don’t want to get into the whole you’ve got an anger management problem, or you’ve got issues with keeping your temper. Because all that does is makes them feel bad about it. It makes them feel guilty about it then they get frustrated with themselves and they’re more inclined to have another meltdown.
What we want to do is to be having conversations on the other side of this. Around the fact that “I know that you’re not happy when that happens, I know that you are feeling like you’re in some kind of pain and it’s not a pain like a hurt body it’s a pain like it’s hurting in your feelings because people only behave that way if they’re in some kind of a pain”. Then you can start a conversation around what that feels like, what it looks like, if you could poke it. What kind of texture would it be, you know, you can really start to do this even with very young children who don’t know words like frustrated or misunderstood. We can start to get them to give you the ingredients of what that emotion felt like for them and that can help them then to communicate when that feeling is perhaps in its onset later on down the line “mummy, I’ve got that blue wishy-washy feeling coming back in my belly”.
At this point, we want to get them to a place of feeling like in the future before the meltdown happens. Because these meltdowns are happening through an inability to communicate an emotion that is happening for them and that emotion is a painful one. It might be something like that’s not fair, it might be something like you’ve overstepped a boundary with me, but they maybe haven’t got the words to be able to express it in that particular moment. If we can get them associating to this as “I know that you are in a place of pain right now” then we’re taking the blame away from the equation and we’re giving them that sort of opportunity to say “yeah, it did feel painful for me in some way and now I want to explore it on that basis because I don’t really want to be in pain. I don’t want to have this unhappiness”.
By Gemma Bailey