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TRANSITIONS AND MELTDOWNS: How to Help our Children . . .

Change is a constant in our daily lives.  Our daily schedule suddenly changes via an interruption or rescheduled meeting.  We have to make a last-minute change of agenda for our holiday plans.  That unexpected phone call or email forces us to do a “180” in our daily schedule.  As adults, we’re pretty good at “rolling with the changes” as the old REO Speedwagon song says.  For our biological kids, we may hear some whining or even some crying when changes affect their daily routine.  But they typically get over it pretty quick.  Not so for many foster and adoptive kids.  Most of the changes they’ve experienced have been traumatic.  Multiple moves, multiple schools and multiple people—some who are scary and unsafe—have dominated their lives.

So, what to do when your foster or adoptive child has a meltdown because it’s time for bed, time to get up, time to eat dinner, time to go to school, or any of the plethora of other “time-to’s”?  And, you may say, “Why I she having a meltdown just because I asked her to put on her coat?”  To understand your child’s though process behind this, you must first understand that 1) She is in a new and strange environment (your home) that has a different set of rules that may seem very strange to her (fear of the unknown); and 2) her prior experiences of change have very possibly been traumatic for her.  Thus CHANGE = SCARY.  Most kids in care don’t have the language, or don’t feel safe enough initiall,y you tell you they’re afraid, so they act out their fears.

As the foster or adoptive parent, how can you help your child to feel safe when facing transitions?  Here are some helpful hints:

  • First off, understand that rarely can you stop a meltdown when it starts.  Your job is just to keep the child and others around her safe from harm in that moment.

  • Understand--and this is a tough one because it’s counterintuitive—that consequencing your child for a meltdown doesn’t work.  Instead, it will just add fuel to the fire.

  •  After the meltdown is over, choose a “teachable moment” when your child is calm—maybe that same day, maybe the day after to encourage her to express how she felt during her meltdown.  Tell her that she seemed scared (because she likely was), and that you were scared for her.

  •  During the “teachable moment” always let your child is safe with you and that you love her.  Tell her gently that when she feels angry inside that it okay to express it, but that you can help her do it without melting down


Parents, you may feel that I’m leaving you hanging in this blog—but take heart, there is more practical information to come on this topic in my next installment.  Thanks for reading!


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