Meltdowns are awful things to experience, both for the person having the meltdown and those watching. So many parents try to adapt their parenting style to avoid triggering meltdowns. Those who experience meltdowns do everything they can to avoid having a meltdown, including avoiding triggers, shutting down instead, staying away from triggering environments, trying to ignore emotions, etc. It can feel like everyday is a constant fight to prevent meltdowns, and not always successfully.
There are times though, when there is no way to avoid a meltdown. Parents have to enforce some rules, usually ones that involve protecting every person involved. Some activities can be dangerous, such as swimming in freezing water, playing with harmful substances, lighting fires, eating too much/pica, climbing furniture, etc. Parents may try to stop these activities to keep the individual safe, but this can trigger a meltdown, especially if the individual feels a need to do these things. At these times, it’s safer to cause a meltdown than to allow the harmful activity.
As adults, we have to do certain things that may be triggering. These may be really important things like making phone calls or dealing with doctors, or they may be important to us personally such as attending an event or going to the cinema. We have to weigh up the chances of a meltdown occurring against how important/necessary the task is. A life-saving operation at hospital will outweigh any potential meltdown, whereas a trip to the cinema may not. People don’t always make the best choices either, sometimes we underestimate the impact a task might have on us, meaning we do something that causes a meltdown that could have easily been avoided. Sometimes we know a meltdown may happen but think it might not happen this time or have been lured into a false sense of security by managing before without having a meltdown. We may also decide the task/event is more important to us personally so we risk a meltdown, after all, we can’t stay cooped up indoors where it’s safe forever, missing out on all the fun things we want to do.
Sometimes the only way we can learn our own boundaries and the boundaries of rules is to try and risk a meltdown. This is true not just of children but of adults too. We can’t allow a young child to run into the middle of a busy road, so we stop them even though we know it will cause a meltdown. The child experiences that meltdown and hopefully learns that they are not allowed to run into the road and that trying causes a meltdown. Hopefully the child learns to stay away from the road. Another idea may be to never let the child go outside, but that’s not very conducive to a healthy and active life. If a child has a meltdown when going to the cinema then the parents need to consider how important going there is, surely the child can watch the same film at home at a later date? If it’s important to the child then working around what’s causing the meltdown may be a better option, for example if it’s the number of people at the cinema then going during quiet times would be best. It isn’t worth potentially causing a meltdown if the child doesn’t learn anything necessary to their life and if there are ways around triggering a meltdown.
One area where the issues are blurred is around school. For some kids, school causes daily meltdowns, the child simply cannot handle being at school. For some families though, they have few options, some parents can only work while the child is at school and they may be unable to stop working as there are no other options available financially. Some feel the benefits of school outweigh the cost (meltdown). Some would prefer their child not to go but the child insists, despite the meltdowns they may really enjoy school. For others though, moving the child to a different school, insisting on accommodations or a reduced timetable, or home schooling are the best options to both reduce meltdowns and make life easier for all involved.
It can be difficult to know when to accommodate and avoid a meltdown or when to push and ’cause’ a meltdown. Many factors are involved in the decision and sometimes decisions are made in the moment so aren’t always the best option. With children, it can be helpful to explain why a meltdown had to be caused, a while after the meltdown has happened and when the child is in an emotionally safe place to discuss the causes. Helping a child to understand why a meltdown happened and why it was unpreventable can help them understand themselves where the boundaries may lie, the child may also have some useful ideas on how to prevent or deal with meltdowns in the future.With adults, reflecting on what happened and what can be done in the future can be helpful. Some adults like to put things in place to make meltdowns easier and over quicker. It’s also important that everyone understands that meltdowns happen sometimes, that it can be no one’s fault and it’s best to accept them and move on.