When dealing with meltdowns, or rage, it is important to recognise when it is possible to negotiate, re-direct or deflect the child's emotion... and when it is time to "ride it out", letting the emotion take its course. If we can catch a child/youth before the emotion takes over their reasoning or thinking power, we are more likely to prevent or minimise the meltdown (Myles and Southwick, 2005).
The Rage Cycle
According to Myles and Southwick (2005) the rage cycle includes three main stages - the rumbling stage, the rage stage, and the recovery stage. They suggest that before and after these stages teachable moments occur. Once the rage cycle starts, the opportunity for the child to learn is gone.
At this stage it is about management and, where possible, prevention of escalation.
The Rumbling Stage
Parents have often expressed to me the fact that they can tell when a meltdown is coming on. The signs could be categorised into four different categories:
- Physical signs, including fidgeting, tapping, restlessness, muscle tenseness, grimacing
- Verbal signs, like name calling, threats, grunting, increasing or decreasing volume
- Behavioural signs, like refusals, crying
What can we do in this stage?
Myles and Southwick (2005) identify a range of strategies that could be used in this stage. Some ideas include:
- Provide a safe, cool down space: Help the child feel safe by moving to a space that is familiar and away from the triggers of their meltdown.
- Provide a physical outlet: Give the child a way to get rid of the excess adrenaline that is flowing as a result of their emotion. This can be anything from squeezing a stress ball, to bouncing on a trampoline, to tearing up paper.
- Remain calm and quiet: Don't try to reason with them, remain calm and close-by. Walk with them if necessary. For some children, touch can also be helpful.
- Redirect: Using a child's interest it may be possible to redirect their attention and emotion. You might need to help the child re-evaluate their goals.
- Use routine: Help the child get back to familiar and safe sequences of events.
Myles, B.S. and J. Southwick (2005). Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments: Practical Solutions for Tantrums, Rage, and Meltdowns. Autism Asperger Publishing Company: Kansas