Handling Meltdowns

By Youth Villages on 13th Apr 2023

We’re all familiar with meltdowns; they’re self-explanatory and oh-too-common. Frankie Boyette is a clinical supervisor with Intercept, in-home therapeutic services with Youth Villages in Middle Tennessee. She holds a master’s degree in social work and has been working in family preservation for eight years, and with Youth Villages for almost six years.  Frankie works with families on de-escalation therapies and on developing coping strategies. She has answered a few frequently asked questions she hears from families.

  • What are your top tips for parents to help a child in a meltdown?

My two biggest tips for parents to help a child in a meltdown are to remain calm and to give it time; time is the biggest factor in de-escalation. Anyone can calm down and begin to regulate after they’ve had time to meltdown. Allow children a safe space to be upset. If you’re in public, find a safe space and be okay with the embarrassment or inconvenience. Don’t let your embarrassment, frustration, or anger escalate the situation further. Try to regulate your own emotions. Don’t use this as a time to scold the child for their behavior but rather a time to help them build skills. Empathize and try to work through the problem they are facing. If they have the language skills, help them identify their concern and solutions to the problem.

Teach your child to identify their emotions and to use ‘I’ statements that help you understand what triggered them to be upset. Help redirect the child to use coping skills and model the coping skills yourself. And if all else fails allow your child time to meltdown as safely as possible. When the child is calm you can then reflect with the child on how the situation could’ve been handled differently or implement an age-appropriate consequence if a rule was broken during the meltdown.

  • How can meltdowns be avoided?

Engage your child in social-emotional learning and help them develop vocabulary around emotions. If you know your child may struggle with something, plan extra time within your schedule and prepare the child for what to expect. Have a plan in place for when your child is feeling overwhelmed and a plan for how you want to respond. Be preventative. Keep unsafe items out of reach whenever possible so that when your child does get upset its safe for the both of you. Oh, and don’t sweat the small stuff. If you have an expectation your child is not meeting, ask yourself how important that expectation is to you.

  • How do you help a teen versus a toddler mid-meltdown?

The biggest difference is being mindful of where the child is, developmentally. Toddlers don’t have the language skills to express their emotions, so it takes some patience while you try to understand what is bothering them. Even at that age, they are beginning to learn how to express themselves which is a good time to practice with them how to handle their emotions and model the behavior you want to see. Both toddlers and adolescents are constantly learning, experiencing new things, and wanting to gain independence. Because of that, it makes sense that they may become overwhelmed with their emotions.

  • At that point should a parent find outside help for dealing with behaviors?

If your child’s behaviors are becoming too difficult to manage safely on a regular basis, you should seek outside help. Your child may need to be assessed for a diagnosis or you may need assistance understanding how your child responds in certain scenarios. I also personally think all teenagers can use some form of therapeutic support, prosocial, or mentorship even if they don’t have behaviors that lead to major safety risk. Adolescence is a tough time, and they are experiencing a lot of changes quickly.

Youth Villages offers two programs for families in crisis. Specialized Crisis Services is a 24/7 crisis support line staffed by master’s-level clinicians who can assess crisis situations for children and youth, up to age 18, who are experiencing a psychiatric emergency.   Intercept is an intensive, in-home approach that works to prevent family disruption by providing mental health support and therapeutic interventions to children and families to give them the tools they need for long-term success.

Anyone in crisis or searching for help for someone in crisis can call the Tennessee Statewide Crisis Hotline:

1-855-CRISIS-1 (1-855-274-7471) or Crisis TextLine – Text “TN” to 741741Dial 988

If you believe your child or family would benefit from Intercept services, MAKE A REFERRAL.

Youth Villages is one of the largest providers of services to children in Tennessee and a national leader in children’s mental and behavioral health. The organization has been recognized by the Harvard Business School and U.S. News & World Report and was identified by The White House as one of the nation’s most promising results-oriented nonprofit organizations. Learn more at www.youthvillages.org.

Crisis services are available 24/7 if your child needs support. Call 855-CRISIS-1 or text CONNECT to 741741. If you have thoughts of suicide, contact 988 to be connected to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

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