3 Tips to Decrease Meltdowns

3 Tips to Decrease Meltdowns

3 tips to decrease meltdowns and tantrums

Minneapolis Parent Coach Jen Kiss gives 3 tips to decrease meltdowns and tantrums

As we all know, meltdowns and tantrums have a way of ruling the roost when they are in full swing. Whether your goal is to stop behavior before it occurs or have a quicker resolution, the key is finding the source. To do this, you have to do some investigating about why your child’s behavior is occurring.

At first glance, you may think the answer is obvious. For instance you may think it was because they didn’t get their way. Or you may have no idea because it feels like it came out of nowhere. But the key to solving behavior issues is to look a little deeper into your child’s reactions. All behavior is communication. When your child has a meltdown or tantrum they are trying to communicate with you.

So what is your child trying to communicate?

Where Behaviors Come From

Fear or Anxiety

A lot of challenging behaviors come out of fear or anxiety. From refusing to go to bed or school, to opposing everything you say, fear is often at the core of these very frustrating behaviors. Usually fear causes children to try to control their environment as a way to try to cope. This can show up as being rigid about what they will or won’t do, being clingy, avoiding certain places or people or becoming bossy and demanding. It can also show up as aggressive behavior because the child’s brain is trying to fight against their fear.

Sensory Sensitivities

For a child who has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or sensory sensitivities, the world can feel like a minefield. Children can become overwhelmed when tasked with something their bodies are uncomfortable with. As a result, many kids with sensory sensitivities use avoidance to manage these sensitivities. They may also have big reactions to certain stimulus or it may seem like they completely tune the world out.

Stress and Overwhelm

Kids are not immune to stress, trauma or overwhelm. In fact, stress often affects kids more because their ability to regulate their emotions, self-soothe, cope and have perspective are still developing. When a child’s stress tolerance is breached the limited skills they do have go right out the window. This leaves kids reacting from their lower brain, which is charge of the stress response. When kids are stressed or overwhelmed it can show up as aggression, disinterest or avoidance.


Trauma does not need to be a big, scary event. Trauma can be a lot of little events that add up over time or a single event. The nature of the event and whether there is a caring adult to help after the event, will determine whether a child experiences trauma.

If your child has a history of trauma, their amygdala can be enlarged because it is working overtime. An enlarged amygdala results in hypervigilence and more stress responses. Like stress, trauma limits a child’s ability to control their actions when triggered. Trauma can be triggered from everyday events or sensory stimulus, like smells. Trauma behaviors are usually much more extreme in their aggression. In addition, trauma tantrums can last for a very long time.

Learning Disability or Neurodiversity Struggles

Children with learning disabilities and neurodiversity struggle because their brain can’t do what is being asked of them. This can be extremely frustrating for the parent and child. While it often appears as being lazy or defiant, the child is actually neither of these things. Executive functioning abilities, which includes focus and attention, impulse control and predicting consequences, can be delayed or harder to master in children that have learning disabilities and neurodiversity. Research has shown that these children have brains that are wired in a different way. Research also indicates these children tend to experience anxiety and depression at a higher rate. Mental health struggles have a direct link to behavior challenges.

Connection or Relationship Troubles

We are social creatures by nature. When a child is not connecting to the important people in their lives, it can set off behavior challenges. A child who is lacking connection may become less trusting of others for fear of further rejection. Or they may become provoking and aggressive to demand others pay attention to them.

Lack of connection can have serious effects on a child’s attachment with caregivers and can lead to mental health issues that last into adulthood. If your child is struggling with behaviors, start by looking at your relationship. How much undivided connection time you are spending with them a day? If your child lacks alone time with you to talk or bond, make this a priority. Spending time with your child would be a good first step to reducing unwanted behaviors.

For teenagers, their main source for connection are their friends. Rejection by peers can lead to depression or significant behavior issues. If things seem fine in your relationship, check in to see how their friend relationships are going. Don’t push too hard, but let them know you are open for talking any time.


Regardless of which category you think your child falls into, the solutions remain the same. So it is okay if your child falls into more than one category; that is not uncommon. It just might mean that it will take longer for your child to work through learning emotional regulation and impulse control because they have a few more hurdles in their way.

1. Spend at least 5 minutes a day connecting with your child

This time should be planned into your day the same way an important meeting would be. This time is spent doing whatever your child would like to do or talk about. Make sure to keep the time uninterrupted. If you need to interrupt your time to deal with something urgent, let your child know and set a time to circle back later.

2. Reflect back to your child so they know you understand their struggles

Whether your child is struggling with fear, stress, neurodiversity or sensory sensitivities, acknowledging why something is hard can be a game changer. If you want to get ahead of behaviors, reflect their feelings back to them as they are beginning to escalate. After reflecting back, like ‘that made you mad, you did not like that at all’, offer to do a coping technique with them. Coping techniques such as slow breathing and hugs are good for any age. If your child escalated too fast you can still reflect during their tantrum to make it shorter. Keep the words small and your voice calm. Listening is the key.

3. Provide “just right” accommodations to decrease meltdowns and tantrums

While we do not want to accommodate too much, we do want to make sure we are supportive. This means we provide just enough support to stretch your child into building their coping and self-regulation skills. For example, you may help them get started with deep breathing and ask for them to continue without you. Or you begin a hard task together and slowly remove yourself over time.

For anxiety and fear, while we do not want to create too much stress, the ultimate goal will be to show the child that they can be uncomfortable and still be okay. This is how we build up their confidence and resilience and lessen behavior challenges. Always start with little steps towards your goal since going too fast can make your child resist. If you want to learn more about how to do this with your child, check out our 3 Ways to Help Your Child with Anxiety.

For sensory sensitivities, accommodations are usually necessary. Like anxiety, the goal is to help them learn to build up tolerance so they can function better in their lives. Because sensory sensitivities can be complex and span all 8 senses, it can be very helpful to work with an occupational therapist to make progress.

Final Thoughts

All behavior is communication. If you listen to what your child’s behavior is trying to communicate you can get to the root cause. Once you know their motive, you can parent from a better, more effective place. Knowing why our kids act the way they do allows us to do the things that will help minimize their behaviors. It also allows us to view our children from a different light and meet them with compassion and patience. And when we do that, challenging behaviors lessen dramatically.

Destructive Tantrums

Destructive Tantrums

Tsunami Tantrums

The destruction a child can bring can bring fear to any parent

Recently my oldest (10) had a complete meltdown.

The kind that lasts for an hour and leaves a disaster path in its wake.

Luckily no real damage was done…books were thrown, papers ripped up, chairs knocked over, little brother’s Lego creations demolished, you get the idea. This is luckily rare in our household these days because we have done the work through Parent Coaching to be able to avoid these kinds of tantrums most days, but I also remember when this was a more regular occurrence. We’re talking a few times a week and the possibility of destruction and physical self-harm much more extreme.

I remember what it used to feel like to be a parent back then.

I remember how powerless I used to feel when my child got set off by something that seemed insignificant to me. And sometimes I had no idea what set off my child, which made dealing with my child in crisis all the more frustrating and confusing.

All of the sudden our entire household was thrown into complete chaos by one child. A child I thought was too old to be acting like this.

My husband and I would get instantaneously sucked into the chaos and become infuriated with how our child was behaving, consumed with the fear of physical damage to our house and the cost it would entail, and completely hopeless about how nothing we were trying was changing the behavior, or stopping the tantrum.

I remember having to physically restrain my child from trying to hurt themselves because they were in that much pain and that out of control.

I remember there were several occasions during these tsunami like tantrums when I would just not want to be a mom anymore. I often just wanted someone to take my child away or I wanted someone I could call to could come over so I could leave and maybe never come back.

That was the hell I was in. It was that hard and I felt that hopeless.

That was then…

This is now…

I know who my child is at their core. They are not a bad kid or even an angry kid. My child is a scared kid. A kid that deals with intense emotions and anxiety that are hard to cope with and every once in a while it leads to an explosion.

But my child is not the problem.

And guess what, I’m not the problem either (neither is my husband if you are keeping score).

We are not bad parents or incompetent parents. We are parents who love our child, but completely lacked the skills needed to raise our child. A child who required more because they live with the effects of trauma and high sensitivity.

My child does not throw a tantrum and destroy my house because they want to cause damage or because they really want to make me angry, but because they are stuck in a stress response in their brain that is making them fight for their life.

Like I said, these explosions are a rarity in our house now and have been for a few years. And when they happen, I am able to stay calm and ride it out (most of the time – I’m human after all).

And as soon as my child is able to accept my help to help calm down, I am there ready and able to help them calm down. My child is able to express what went wrong and then clean up the house on their own.

And the best part…I feel really good. I don’t hate my child and I don’t hate being a mom to my child.

My child will always struggle with intense behaviors and high sensitivity, it is part of who they are.

And I now have the tools and skills needed to support my child in who they are and who they will become.

If you are where I was, I’d love to connect with you to help you find your new way.

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