How to turn a meltdown into a learning opportunity

photo of woman and girl talking while lying on bed
By Psychologist Alex Almendingen

Emotional meltdowns – they’re so ‘big’ that they warrant two blog articles to deal with them! In my previous article – “What to do after a meltdown” I outlined how there is often “unfinished business” that we need to work through with a child after an emotional outburst.

Some questions that we can ask ourselves during the post-meltdown phase include:

‘What caused that meltdown?’,

‘what was my child going through at the time?’, and

‘what could have stopped this from happening?’

Thinking about these questions can help us to process what was going on at the time and perhaps what we could begin to do differently next time.

So, what next? The following strategies can be used to help parents and young people reflect on and learn from these emotionally-charged outbursts during the post-meltdown phase after everyone has had a chance to cool down:

  1. Identifying, talking about, and evaluating triggers allows open dialogue around what might have led to the emotionally-charged outburst. Engagement in such discussions can help ourselves, as well as our child, develop greater awareness of potential high-risk situations or events.
  2. Encouraging an open discussion of the young person’s unmet needs can act as a powerful tool in identifying, acknowledging, and processing the emotions and internal experiences underlying triggering events. Maybe our child was lacking emotional connection or attention when they were feeling lonely; perhaps they were overwhelmed as a result of overstimulation; maybe they felt worried in a stressful or anxiety-provoking situation, perhaps they felt their rights and boundaries were violated, or maybe they just were not feeling understood. Once we can identify the unmet need, we need to help our child to express it. And tell them we understand how that must feel – empathy is paramount!
  3. Reasoning and problem-solving provides the opportunity to reflect on and consider how a given situation may have been handled in a more helpful way. You and your child could brainstorm possible solutions and weigh up the pros/cons of each option. In doing so, this can help address unresolved issues in the present and prepare for future occurrences of similar challenges. 

Here’s hoping these strategies give you some patience, reflection and strength to turn ‘unfinished business’ into a vehicle for positive change!

Alex is a registered psychologist with a Master’s degree in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Within school-based and public mental health settings, Alex has experience in conducting comprehensive mental health assessments and delivering evidence-based psychological therapy for young people and adolescents with a range of behavioural, emotional, psychosocial, and neurodevelopmental challenges. Alex is also committed to strengthening the confidence and capacity of caregivers to support their children’s development and overall wellbeing. Through his person-centred, empathic, and collaborative approach, Alex is dedicated to building and maintaining a trusting, safe, and supportive therapeutic environment for all his clients and their families to create lasting positive changes.

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