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Managing the Meltdowns

February 20, 2020

Your kid has meltdowns. They get frustrated over something and can’t hold it together.

You want to help. You seek to explain things, offer advice and guidance, good advice. The meltdowns continue.

What may not be realized is that the issue maintaining the meltdown could be the very act of providing advice.

Looked at from a different perspective, that act of giving advice could just be positive reinforcement of the meltdown behavior. In other words, simply giving attention to the meltdown may be the very thing that is maintaining it.

If that is the case, then the solution is to withdraw attention and quit trying to be helpful as before. Instead the challenge for the parent may be to act calm and nonchalant, even ignore the event leaving the child to sooth themself.

It may seem counter-intuitive, especially to a kind parent who wants to be responsive, explore feelings and support their child. It may feel mean, withholding attention with the child in distress.

However, the truth of the matter is, your child is likely well. Frustrated, but well. You are triggered by their distress though. They may be lapping up your attention.

This change works for some, but there is more to carry it off well and successfully. Full and consistent follow through is important.

When at first you try to withhold attention, the child will likely escalate, wondering where your attention has gone. Their escalation is to bring you back.

You have to endure and continue being neutral, going about your business. Within a few days, the meltdowns may subside.

If you give in at a time of escalation, you will have provided rewarding attention and now the meltdowns could get worse. Your commitment is vital to this change of approach.

Working with a counselor who is familiar with these issues may be necessary. Support for the parent can be key.


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I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue or even help growing your practice. I am available in person and by video conferencing.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW for counseling and support – to build your successful practice


Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, former parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice

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