Staying calm during your autistic child’s meltdown isn’t an easy task for anyone…
But it’s particularly difficult if you are triggered yourself.
Whether you’re autistic, you have trauma in your past, you struggle with your mental health or you just can’t stay calm during the chaos, this is the post for you!
I’m going to share with you my exact 5-step process to de-escalate your child’s meltdown when you’re triggered yourself.
I use these steps myself as an autistic mom of six neurodiverse kids.
I have chronic migraines and general anxiety disorder on top of being autistic, so let’s just say I’m not a stranger to being triggered by my kids’ meltdowns!
How to De-Escalate Your Child’s Meltdown When You’re Triggered
Before I dive into how to de-escalate your child’s meltdown when you’re triggered, I want to get clear on one thing…
You are NOT a bad parent if you’re triggered during your child’s meltdowns.
You are NOT a bad parent if you struggle to stay calm during your child’s meltdowns.
You are NOT a bad parent if you lose it sometimes because of your neurology, your past trauma, your mental health, or just because you’re human and can’t stay calm all the time.
Now let’s dive in.
#1 Know Your Triggers & Responses
It is super important to know your triggers and know your go-to responses.
The fact is, you can’t control your responses without a plan. And you can’t plan for your responses if you don’t know what they are.
So take some time thinking about the things that typically trigger you.
Is it when your child says a specific thing? When they scream? When they hit you?
Then I want you to dig one layer deeper.
Why is that a trigger for you?
When you’re able to see why something is a trigger, you can start to find the best coping strategies and even explain it to your family so everyone can help avoid it.
Then I want you to spend some time thinking about your natural response.
You may have heard about fight, flight, or freeze before.
These are the three ways that humans naturally respond to triggers, and most of us have one primary response.
Me? I’m a flee-er. And if I can’t flee? I freeze and shut down.
We have a joke in my family that if mom’s fighting it’s because she has no other option!
My husband, on the other hand, he’s a fighter all the way. He’ll argue anything with anybody.
So what’s my point?
Know your go-to response.
Do you fight? Do you flee? Do you freeze?
Remember, you can’t control your response until you have a plan… And you can’t plan for your response until you know what it is!
#2 Fill Your Cup
Okay, I know this is super cliche.
But to be honest, I couldn’t think of any not-cliche way to say this.
You have to put your own oxygen mask on before you can help others.
See? All the cliches…
But here’s the deal: These things are cliche for a reason.
It’s because they’re true.
If you want to stay calm while your child is having a meltdown, it starts with you being intentional before the meltdown ever starts.
Think about it…
If you are starving, haven’t had two seconds to yourself all day, and you’re fighting a migraine, you’re more likely to respond in a not so stellar way, right?
I know I am!
Now, I’m not going to say that you need to spend hours in a bubble bath or go for a spa weekend for self-care.
But I am saying that one of the most important steps to de-escalating your child’s meltdown when you’re triggered is to make sure you’ve done some basic self-care.
#3 Have an In-The-Moment Plan
Okay, now it’s time to create an in-the-moment plan for when your autistic child has a meltdown.
And I make this as simple as I possibly can.
So in step 1, you recognized your triggers and your natural responses.
It’s time to pull those out.
Because we’re going to use those to create our plan.
The first part of our plan is the triggers…
“When my child (insert trigger),”
Simple enough, right?
Okay, now let’s get into our response, which is a little bit trickier.
So you know by now your natural response is either fight, flight, or freeze.
And when you make our in-the-moment plan, I want you to work with your natural response instead of fighting against it.
So if you tend to flee like me, you’re going to create a response that uses that.
For me? I walk to the other side of the room and take a few deep breaths.
If you are a fighter, maybe you step into another room, scream into a pillow, regroup and go back in.
The point is, you want to go with your response, not fight against it. If you fight against your response it’s only going to be so much worse when you finally explode.
And once you’ve finished this step, you’ll have an in-the-moment when/then plan.
“When my child (insert trigger), I will (insert target response)”
Then practice that response over and over and over again until it’s second nature.
#4 Have an Oops Plan
Okay, now you have a plan for how you will respond in-the-moment… But I’m going to let you in on a secret.
Sometimes your in-the-moment plan will go out the window.
Maybe your child pushes past your first calm response and you can’t keep control.
Maybe you’re having an awful day already, and you aren’t able to do your calm response when things hit the fan.
Whatever the reason, in the real world all of us have bad days.
That’s where the oops plan comes in.
This is where I want you to have a plan for how you’re going to get yourself together after you’ve lost it.
So part one of every oops plan is just to get to the point where everyone is safe.
Meltdown safety plans is a whole other topic… But essentially, make sure everyone is safe and just get through the meltdown.
Then I want a plan for you. How will you get centered and in control of your own emotions after a really rough meltdown?
Maybe this looks like listening to music. Or journaling.
Maybe it looks like going for a run.
However you calm down and ground yourself, plan for that now.
“After I lose it during a meltdown, I will ______________ to settle myself.”
#5 Have a Re-Connect Plan
And finally, I highly encourage you to have a re-connect plan for after meltdowns.
Once everyone has had their space and time to calm down, it’s important to come together and connect.
This doesn’t have to be anything major.
Watch a movie together, take a walk, play in a sensory bin, whatever helps you and your child feel connected.
This is absolutely vital.
After a meltdown, your child is likely feeling disconnected and like they’ve done something wrong.
In their eyes, you could be angry at them or hurt or any other negative emotion.
They need that reconnection with you to see that your relationship is not altered because of this meltdown.
And, if I’m being honest, you likely need this reconnection moment to
- Remember that your child doesn’t always have meltdowns, and
- Remember that your relationship isn’t permanently altered because you didn’t handle the meltdown well.
So there you have it! 5 steps to de-escalate your autistic child’s meltdowns even when you’re triggered yourself.
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