Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Meltdowns in Kids with Disabilities: Coping Tips for Parents

By guest blogger Kristen Heller

Whether you have a child who has Down’s syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome, or a child who is somewhere on the autism spectrum, there’s a good chance you’ve dealt with a meltdown at some point as a parent. As a single mom (I’m a widow) caring for a son with Down’s Syndrome, I’ve dealt with them many times, particularly when my son went through a period of grief after his father died. Meltdowns transform my son into a child I barely recognize, and there’s screaming, kicking, head banging, and hitting to contend with when they happen. I can’t count the number of times I’ve headed to the bathroom for a good cry after going through a meltdown with my son.

You’ll find plenty of good information on what defines a meltdown, differentiating a meltdown from a temper tantrum, and how to hold your child safely during a meltdown. When I started dealing with regular meltdowns from my son, all that information was great. But I was left wondering, how do I cope with these meltdowns myself? Meltdowns take a physical and emotional toll on parents, and I was left struggling, trying to figure out how to cope myself while helping my son get through meltdowns. If you’re dealing with meltdowns and struggling to cope, here are a few of the coping tips I’ve learned through the past couple of years.

Tip #1 – Stop Taking Meltdowns Personally
When you’re in the middle of a meltdown with your child and dealing with screaming, hitting, kicking, or punching, it all feels personal. It feels like an assault on your person. You’re left trying to keep your child safe, yourself safe, while minimizing any damage to surrounding property, and it’s a tough task. It’s tough to keep your composure when dealing with a child who can no longer control his own behavior.

Try to remember that the meltdown isn’t personal. Your child isn’t lashing out at you. He’s lost control and you’re the closest target. Remember, your child’s aggression and anger is about his inability to deal with the situation, not about you. Start realizing that it’s not personal and you’ll find it easier to cope with the meltdowns.

Tip #2 – Realize a Meltdown Will Come to an End
Meltdowns feel like they’re going to last forever. But recognize that they will end. Eventually your child is going to run out of energy, since meltdowns are just as exhausting for your child as they are for you. Knowing that they’ll end can help you remain calm when a meltdown happens. Sure, it can be embarrassing when it happens in public, but ignore the odd looks or comments of others and hold on to the reality that it will end soon.

Tip #3 – Take Time to Care for Yourself
As your child’s parent, you’re his first and last defense. You’ll often be the one trying to help him get through a meltdown. If you’re going to be an effective parent, you have to take care of yourself, too. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way. After my husband passed away, I spent all my time focusing on my child. I wasn’t taking time out to care for myself, and before long, I ended up in the hospital. Investing in yourself helps you ensure that you’re equipped to give your child with disabilities the care he needs.

Tip #4 – Consider Some Help
I used to feel that to be a good mom to my son, I had to do it all myself. I was wrong. There really is a lot of truth to the saying, “it takes a village…” It’s even more true when you’re raising a child that deals with disabilities. Don’t feel like you have to do it all alone. Let friends and family members help if they can. Consider a home care aide who can help you with daily personal care tasks that take up a lot of your time and leave you struggling to hold on when meltdowns occur. Don’t feel like you have to do the job alone. Try it and you’ll crack under the pressure.


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Dealing with meltdowns can be one of the toughest parts of parenting a child with disabilities or special needs. And you need to know that it’s okay to fall apart yourself sometime. There have been days I thought I’d lose my mind if I went through one more meltdown with my son, but I learned ways to cope. And I survived. You can too! Learn to cope and take care of yourself and when that next meltdown occurs, you’ll know that you’ve got this.

Kristen is a passionate writer, teacher, and mother to a wonderful son. When free time presents itself you can find her tackling her lifelong goal of learning the piano! 
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