Tag Archives: Tools

How to Handle a Meltdown in a Public Place

how to handle a meltdown in a public place

How do you feel when your child has a meltdown in a public place?  Does adrenaline course through you? Does heat radiate through your body up to your flaming cheeks?

Maybe, like me, a dozen inner voices echo around your head,

“I knew we shouldn’t have come.”

“He’s three/seven/eleven years old now. Surely this shouldn’t still be happening?”

“If I’d called him over for a drink five minutes ago, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Everyone must be thinking what a spoilt brat he is. I bet they blame me.”

“Why can’t I just relax for once like those other parents?”

That’s exactly how I felt when I glanced up to see a boy banging my son over the head with a dodgeball at a trampoline park. As I raced over, not sure of what had happened before but knowing exactly what was going to happen next, my son launched himself at the boy. By the time I reached the court, my son had fled and an angry dad was trying to get my attention. As I turned to follow my son, the man shouted, “That’s right, just walk away when I’m talking to you!”

Looking back on that day, I thought about how much I’ve learned over the past few years about how to handle a meltdown in a public place.

We can’t always help getting triggered; seeing our kid causing mayhem in a crowded place is about as stressful as it gets. But we can plan ahead to manage the fallout in the least damaging way.

Five steps to handling a meltdown in a public place

Step One – Be as well-rested and soul-nourished as possible

A full night’s sleep may not prevent your child melting down, but you’ll handle things better if you’re not at the end of your rope to start with.

Step Two – Focus on your child

When other people are angrily clamouring for your attention after an incident, it’s easy to forget your child. But he’s the one who needs you first.

Check your child is safe. No matter what he’s done, avoid yelling. If you can manage it, offer a hug. Touch reduces stress and releases oxytocin, which promotes bonding.

My son and I hug many times each day, but even loving touch is too much when he’s flooded with negative emotion. Instead I give him water, tell him I love him, and lead him a secure, quiet place.

Step Three – Face the music

If you can, return to the scene of the meltdown.

After the dodgeball incident I approached the other parent and said, “Sorry I walked away when you were talking. I needed to know my son was safe.”

Let any other people involved have their say. They’ll feel heard and you’ll discover more about what led up to the incident. This will help you understand what triggered your child so you’ll be better prepared to talk about what happened with him later.

Thank the other people, apologise if appropriate, and explain – in your preferred way – that your child has special needs. (In my book, all children who get over-stimulated in public places have ‘special needs’.)

At the trampoline park I discovered that my son had marched onto the other team’s side of the dodgeball court and started shouting at them at close range for not following the rules. The other boy’s mother told me that her son had special needs too, which explained why he reacted the way he did. Both parents  thanked me for going back to talk to them.

Step Four – Help your child calm down

If your child is still overwhelmed when you return, do what you can to minimise stimulation in his environment.

After what happened at the trampoline park my daughter and I respected my son’s need for quiet and drove home in silence without listening to our usual audiobook.

We stopped at a drive-through Starbucks for fruity iced drinks to help my son cool down and feel better about the outing. Some people might see this as rewarding ‘bad behaviour’, but I don’t want my son to be put off visiting the trampoline park – it’s an important outlet for his psychomotor energy as well as an opportunity for him to get fit and to practise social skills and self-regulation.

Step Five – Talk with your child about what happened

Once your child is completely calm, gently and non-judgementally ask him about the incident. If he gets re-triggered and can’t talk about it say, “I can sense you’re still feeling upset. Let’s talk about this later. I love you.”

I’ve learned that there really is no point trying to have a constructive conversation when my son’s angry – it’s impossible to engage the reasoning part of his brain.

When your child eventually is calm enough to be able to discuss what happened, show that you understand what triggered him and appreciate the positive intention behind his behaviour (however hard to find).

After my son’s trampolining meltdown I said, “I can see that you have a deep sense of fairness, and that caused you to have a strong reaction when you thought the other children were breaking the rules. That sense of fairness will serve you well in your life. Let’s think about ways you can manage the strong feelings you have when something unfair happens in the future.”

Should you make your child apologise after a meltdown in a public place?

You’ll notice none of my steps include dragging an overwhelmed child back to the scene to apologise. I know social convention says I should, but it’s something I gave up a long time ago.

Children rarely choose to ‘misbehave’. When my son mixes with other people in busy public places he will get over-stimulated and – until he learns to handle his intense emotions – meltdowns will happen. If we never went out, he’d never learn to manage his reactions.

My son knows how to say sorry. Sometimes he spontaneously apologises after a meltdown, other times everyone just has to move on. Until other parents have walked a mile in my shoes I won’t worry about their judgements.

Be kind to yourself

Finally, don’t forget to appreciate yourself for the way you handled the situation. Public meltdowns are one of the hardest parts of parenting sensitive and intense children, especially if you have OEs yourself.

Even when things don’t go to plan, appreciate your positive intention and the fact that you did your best in challenging circumstances.

When was the last time your child had a meltdown in a public place?

How did you handle it?

Which of these steps works best with your child?

Have I said anything you disagree with? I’d love to hear your point of view. (Please be kind ;))

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Photo credit: Kenneth Dagenais

How Not to Feel Anxious (Even When You’re About to Jump out of a Plane)

How not to be anxious

The air rushed past my face as I sat in the open doorway of the plane, 15,000 feet above the English countryside. A moment later I’d be freefalling towards the ground at 125 mph. Surely I should be feeling at least a bit anxious?

Here are a few of the anxiety-reducing techniques I’d been doing beforehand…

How not to feel anxious

1. Reframing physical sensations

You know that ‘butterflies in the tummy’ sensation you get when you think about something that makes you feel anxious? Physiologically, it’s the same as the feeling we get when we’re excited.

But, unlike William Shakespeare’s rose, the name we give to that feeling can make all the difference.

If we label the butterflies sensation nerves or anxiety,  the feeling will probably grow stronger and more negative. But if we call the feeling excitement, we’re likely to feel a final fleeting frisson as we acknowledge the trigger, before our nervous system returns to normal.

In the week before my skydive I got butterflies every time someone mentioned my jump. But whenever anyone asked if I was nervous I didn’t answer ‘Absolutely terrified!’ Instead I truthfully replied, ‘A bit. But mainly I’m really excited!’

Reframing is one of the simplest yet most powerful techniques I learned when I trained to be a cognitive hypnotherapist.

I encourage my kids to reframe, but I’m also careful to acknowledge authentic emotions. None of these techniques is about slapping a happy face sticker over an empty fuel gauge, but rather transforming negative emotions into more positive ones.

In the case of my skydive, joyfully living life to the full is one of my core values. So transforming my nervousness into excitement was congruent with my authentic self.

2. Power Posing

If I told you that standing like Wonder Woman for two minutes would make you feel more confident and decrease stress, you might be sceptical. But if you’d heard of Amy Cuddy’s research into how our physiology affects our mental state you’d probably give it a try, and you might be surprised at the results.

I tried out power posing last week after listening to Cuddy’s audiobook, Presence. I was amazed how a few minor adjustments in the way I hold my body had such an uplifting effect.

One afternoon Cordie was feeling a bit out of sorts so I invited her to power pose with me. “Two whole minutes?!” she grumbled. I suggested we time ourselves by playing a song on her phone. So there we stood, two wonder women in front of the mirror, jiggling our hips to Enrique Iglesias and giggling our heads off.

How not to feel anxious - Power Posing
Power posing before my skydive

Watch Cuddy’s TED talk, read her book or see James Clear’s excellent article about power posing to find out more.

3. The Escudero Method

Once upon a time, in another life, I used to attend board meetings with the heads of UK music companies.  I noticed in those meetings that whenever a junior employee spoke, they always took a sip of water straight afterwards.

When I later trained as a cognitive hypnotherapist, I discovered why: anxiety gives us a dry mouth.

During my training I also learned a weird hack which, like power-posing, works because of the way the body affects the mind.

The Escudero method was originally developed as a pain control technique by a surgeon who successfully performed dozens of operations without any anaesthesia. It also works wonders when you need a confidence boost.

Luckily I was skydiving with my lovely hypnotherapy tutor, who reminded me of the Escudero method when he noticed me sipping from my water bottle as we waited to be called to our plane. To feel more confident, all you need to do is gather saliva in your mouth. Just as smiling’s been proven to make us feel happier, it’s hard to feel anxious with a well-moistened mouth. Slightly gross, I know, but – hey – if it works…

4. 4-7-8 Breathing

I became a believer in the power of breathing techniques when I (a self-confessed wuss who used to pop a paracetamol at the first hint of a headache) comfortably gave birth to my son at home, without even so much as a whiff of gas and air.

4-7-8 breathing generates a ratio of carbon dioxide to oxygen that relaxes our parasympathetic nervous system and promotes a state of calm. All you do is inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold for 7, and exhale through your mouth for 8. Rest the tip of your tongue between your palate and your top front teeth as you breathe.

I’ve been using 4-7-8 breathing a lot since I learned it from Simone de Hoogh. It came in very handy as our plane slowly climbed to the 15,000 feet from which I was to freefall.

Do these techniques really stop you feeling anxious?

So did I feel nervous in the moments before I jumped out of a plane and hurtled toward the ground at 125mph for 60 seconds before parachuting down to earth?

Amazingly – I didn’t!

Thanks to these techniques I felt incredibly calm from the second I boarded our plane until the moment I parachuted gently down to earth.  See for yourself in this (1 min 25 sec) video. I knew you wouldn’t be able to hear me shout, ‘I love this!’ during freefall, so as you can see from the thumbnail, I used sign language.?

(You can see the full video (5 mins 53 secs) here.)

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever gone out of your way to do?

How do you deal with anxiety?

Have you ever tried any of these techniques?

I’d love to hear from you!

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A Surprisingly Powerful Tool To Raise Your Energy And Resilience

Self-Care for Parents

One of my favourite ways to boost my energy and resilience levels is to listen to guided visualisations or meditation recordings.

When I was working as a therapist I often made recordings for my clients. They found that by listening every day for three weeks or more they were able to make the changes they were looking for more easily, and that the changes were permanent.

I made the recordings short enough – around 6 minutes – so that even the busiest person could find time to slip on a pair of headphones, sit back and relax while allowing themselves to be guided towards their goals.

Today I thought I’d share one of my recordings with you. I made this to help me stay connected to what’s important to me as a parent. I also asked the lovely members of the PowerWood Facebook Group for ideas – thank you to everyone who responded – I think I’ve incorporated all your suggestions!

Why should I listen to ‘Self-Care for Parents’?

Here’s how you might feel after listening:

* more relaxed

* able to focus more on positive behaviour than negative

* knowing when to gently guide and when to give space

* more in tune with what’s important to you (and less bothered about the opinions of those who don’t understand your family the way you do)

* able to see the funny side of things more often

* more playful

* more creative and resourceful

* calmer

* less likely to be triggered even in situations that used to overwhelm you

* able to head off problems before they escalate

* more in tune with what’s important to you

All these benefits will increase with regular listening (ideally every day for 3 weeks, then after that whenever you feel like it).

When to listen to ‘Self-Care for Parents’

The recording’s designed to be listened to while you’re relaxing with your eyes closed, so either sit or lie down in a safe, comfortable place where you’re unlikely to be disturbed. (Don’t listen while you’re driving or doing the ironing!)

Will I dance like a chicken after listening?

If anyone would like a transcript of the recording to see what they’re going to be listening to, please let me know. Don’t worry, I won’t make you dance like a chicken. 😉

How to download ‘Self-Care for Parents’

Press the big red button below to download the (6 min 54 sec, 6.6MB) recording onto your computer or device:

How to play ‘Self-Care for Parents’ (without downloading)

If you want to play the recording without downloading it press this button:

Technical issues?

Let me know, and I’ll try and help! I’ve never done this before so I’m on a learning curve. If the recording doesn’t automatically download, try using a different browser. You might have more success with Chrome or Firefox than Internet Explorer and Safari.

I’d love to hear how you get on

I’m committing to listening to the recording every day for 3 weeks, starting today. I’d love you to join me and share what changes you notice, in the comments below or at the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page.

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Thank You

I’ve been blown away by the response to my last post, Why Our Intense Children Trigger Our Suppressed Pain, which was probably the most personal and scary thing I’ve ever written.

I owe an enormous ‘THANK YOU!’ to the thousands of people who shared it. You’ve helped so many people connect with PowerWood, and boosted the PowerWood FaceBook Group into an even more supportive community. Looking at the FaceBook profiles of all the new members was such an uplifting experience. What a caring, compassionate group of people!

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Last, but more important than anything, a message to my mum: I love you so much. I appreciate every single one of your many, many little and big kindnesses over the years. I’m so lucky to have you in my life. Thank you for being you.


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