How to help a child through a meltdown


Now, I have plenty of experience in this arena. Meltdowns would definitely be my specialist subject in a Mastermind quiz as I think I’ve pretty much seen it all with Jude.

Well, maybe not “all” but it certainly feels like it to me. Thankfully, since moving to his awesome school, his melt downs have lessened in their severity and duration. They have taught him coping mechanisms and methods to try and prevent such occurrences happening as frequently as they used to.


I feel bad that I wasn’t able to be the advisor or initiator for Jude’s new found skills, however I realise that I am too emotionally attached and that the school know way more than me and have the experience of knowing what has and hasn’t helped in the past with other children. I’m certainly learning from them, they are a fantastic bunch.


But anyway, how do we help Jude get through a melt down when he’s at home? Here are a few tips that I hope may help some people.


  • If I can sense an imminent meltdown then I guide Jude to his room. His safe space. I know that he is safe, he can’t hurt himself, he can’t hurt his sisters and he can’t go on a rampage and trash the whole house. Jude feels content in his room, he knows it is his domain and that pretty much anything goes within those four walls. It’s horrific to do but if I feel like he is having a particularly physical meltdown then I leave him in his room and talk to him through the door. Over the years I have gained many a bruise and the occasional lump from Jude’s thrashing around. He’s twelve now, about 5’1 tall and gangly plus he’s getting stronger every day. I know he isn’t huge for his age but when he’s in the throes of rage, he is capable of so much more than his apparent strength. Does your child have a safe space? Make sure they know that it is theirs and that they can go there when they feel anxious or stressed. Jude often shuts his bedroom door when he wants to be away from everyone else and we very much respect his privacy.


  • If I can’t get Jude to his safe space, I move the girls. Sometimes, you just know it isn’t going to be pretty so it’s very much damage limitation. I’m making Jude sound like a monster here which he very much isn’t. However, if he is screaming at the top of his voice and kicking out at anything and anyone in his vicinity then I need to try and protect him as well as the girls. Elsa kind of knows the drill now. She will say “come on Emmeline” and literally lead her into another room for distractions sake. Thankfully, this hasn’t happened for a long time now but I still have the mental scars as a reminder of what CAN happen in the worst case scenario.


  • I can gauge situations pretty well these days so I know if it’s going to be a bad one or not. His behaviour beforehand is very indicative of what is to come. Sometimes, I’m able to diffuse the situation. Not often but occasionally. There are a few things that Jude loves and if he’s in an ok frame of mind still then we an minimise the severity of his meltdown. Examples: food. I will make out like he’s having a big treat and not to tell his sisters, if I let him eat a sandwich in his bedroom. Music. Jude loves certain songs and if I play them then they can have a great effect on his mood. Find those triggers that you can use as your positivity weapon! They don’t always work but at times, you will need them.


  • I give Jude some space and time. Safely (hopefully) in his room, I tell Jude that I will sit outside his room until he is ready. He can’t really hear me through his rage, or perhaps he can, I never really know. I maybe say it for my own benefit as much as his because when he’s screaming, crying and throwing stuff at me, I feel bad for not being able to make it all better for him. I’ll give him some time to get the majority of the rage out of his system and when I can sense a difference in his tone, when he is slightly calmer, I’ll go back in and sit quietly on his floor. It’s funny because it’s that analogy of a mist rising from his body, ridding him of this anger that is so built up. When I walk in, I ask if he’s finished and he will say yes and sit down on the bed. He knows what I’m asking and what I’m referring to. I find it so sad but he just can’t help it.


  • Worse case scenarios. The worst ever was that awful summer holiday trip to the park two years ago, you can read about it here. I’m still traumatised by that day and really didn’t know how to cope at the time. We were trapped in a goldfish bowl but I’ve learnt so much since that time. The most likely worst case scenario these days is Jude having a meltdown in public like he did about a year ago in town. Thankfully, it was just the two of us and the only way I could get him to walk was literally carry him. Somehow, I managed to carry a thrashing, screaming eleven year old boy. Nowadays, there is no way I could do that and frankly, I think it was pure terror that allowed me the strength to do it last year. I’ve had to restrain Jude at times which I hate doing but when I’m concerned that he will hurt someone or himself, I have no choice. This is my current worst case scenario coping mechanism. In Edinburgh last week, I was so afraid of him hurting himself that I virtually pinned him to the bed whilst he tried to kick me with his flailing legs. I feel awful at the time but I’m not sure there are any better suggestions of how to get through these scenarios. At this time, I held his hands to stop him hitting me and literally sat on his lower body so he wasn’t able to kick me. Boy, does he have a good kick on him these days. I hate myself for doing it but it is literally self-defence. It was a brief minute in time and because of Jude’s new found self-awareness, soon we were just holding hands as he cried. Heartbreaking to be a part of.


  • Following the meltdown, if the mood has altered (occasionally there are second waves still to come) then we will have a talk. I will tell Jude that it’s ok to be angry but he needs to try and be less destruction, not hit mummy and not throw things. He knows this and always agrees with me. Typically, Jude will now behave as if nothing has ever happened and ask when dinner is ready or if such and such is coming over later. It’s quite bizarre from an outside perspective.


  • So that Jude doesn’t regress or dwell on the situation too long, I will offer Jude a distraction. He absolutely loves watching videos of himself so I’ll give him my phone and he’ll choose which one he wants to watch. Once he is laughing again, I know we are on safe territory.


Meltdowns are so unique to each child and I know that the above is very personal to our own situation however, hopefully it will give some people food for thought. I’d love to hear how you help your child cope during these moments of aggression, sadness or anger.

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