For parents, there are different ways of dealing with a child’s tantrum. However, handling a sensory meltdown is entirely different, needing added and careful attention.

It is important to first of all determine if your child is having a tantrum or a sensory meltdown. The actions of a child on both counts may seem similar, but are caused by two very different reasons. You should determine if it was caused from wanting attention or some external factor that parents are unaware of?

The difference between a tantrum and a sensory meltdown

Kids who end up flailing, kicking or screaming could be either having a tantrum or having a sensory meltdown.  Outbursts are usually caused by kids looking for attention. Sensory Meltdowns, on the other hand, can stem from a variety of reasons. That includes:

  1. Sensory overload
  2. Dysregulation or the inability to maintain a ready state
  3. Fight or flight response to sensory overload
  4. Inability to cope with a new challenge or situation
  5. Lack of nutrition or sleep
  6. Change in routine

If you have child that sometimes experiences sensory meltdowns the key is trying to prevent them from happening if possible.  If you are able to identify what may have caused the meltdown, you may be able to prevent future sensory meltdowns.  Identifying the cause may be tough but keep in mind it could come from the clothing they are wearing, the food they have received or the environment they are end.  Somethings can be very overwhelming for a child with sensory issues, resulting in a meltdown.

As a parent keeping a close eye on the environment and signs of over stimulation is very important.

Be aware that places that can be a lot of fun for some children can provide too much sensory stimulation for others.  Places and events like movies, parties and shopping with a lot of people can cause too much stimulation and bring on a sensory meltdown.

Simple ways of handling a sensory meltdown

A child having a sensory meltdown unfortunately has hit a point where talking to them will not work.  The best way to handle the sensory meltdown is first of all remove your child and self from the situation that caused the meltdown if possible and if you can identify the trigger counter react it as quickly as possible.  Unfortunately, is is often not possible to remove yourself from the situation fast enough.

Once your child has hit this point keep in mind that they are not their self and just can’t cope.  It is your job to do what you can to hold them and help calm them down so that they do not hurt themselves during this meltdown.

The meltdown more than likely will be exhausting for you as well as your child so it is important to try to stay calm and tell yourself it will pass in time.

Sensory toolkit for meltdowns

One recourse for parents is to have a portable sensory toolkit with them. This helps manage meltdowns and are not hard to find. Here is a list of things to have in the kit:

  1. Sunglasses. To address light sensitivity issues that may irritate a child.
  2. Noice-cancelling headphones. To help block off any auditory stimuli.
  3. Wide-brimmed hat or cap. Also meant to block out light, these can also help shield a child away from social interactions.
  4. Chewy or crunchy snacks. To help address oral-related issues and make sure that kids don’t end up hungry and cranky.
  5. Plain hand wipes. Preferably unscented, these should come in handy to help a child wipe off anything irritating.
  6. Scented hand lotion. Meltdowns may also stem from a scent. The right-hand cream can come in handy and combat offensive smells.

The Sensory Diet

Parents may also seek the help of an occupational therapist (OT). Kids aged three to 10 are given a series of exercises, referred to as a sensory “diet.”

This includes activities like jumping on a trampoline, squished in cushions and more. A sensory diet intends to see how continuous and low-dose exposure can result in a more adaptive response.

As mentioned before, placing a child in a sensory retreat, there is no quick fix to resolve sensory processing disorders (SPD). There is no definite time frame and a lot depends on the coping mechanism of a child.

Parents also have a role in the evaluation and treatment of their child. They need to pay close attention to the responses and take note of them to minimize them in his environment. It would be best to ask the OT as well to find out other things that can be done to reinforce the sensory diet.

The reality of it all is that the best parents can do is look for ways to remedy meltdowns of their children. Awkward and uncomfortable as it may seem, the best way is to keep an open mind. Seeking help from specialists familiar with SPD would be a good idea and helpful.

Aside from that, it would be best to speak with parents who have been dealing with meltdowns to. They could be the other patients seeking occupational therapy help or references by friends. Parents who are out to learn more through conventions or private talks could socialize with other people. This includes the guest speakers who can shed more light on how to handle SPD cases.

Never be ashamed of your child

Parents are aware that with meltdown concerns, bringing their child in public may be risky. Untimely outbursts place them in an embarrassing situation, something no one wants to be in.

However, parents can make the adjustments and don’t have to be ashamed of it. There are preventive measures that can be taken, including therapy to help resolve the issue.

It all boils down to a matter of adjusting and addressing the surroundings. Already aware that irritating sights, sounds or smell can spur an outburst, parents just have to adjust for the sake of their child. A sensory toolkit was mentioned earlier and this could come in handy in certain scenarios.

The reality of it all is that handling meltdowns will vary. They are a case-to-case basis and kids will respond in different ways. Whatever the case may be, a parent needs to oversee their child’s welfare and adjust accordingly together.


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