Challenged Hope

Grandmother raising Grandchildren with FASD in Hamilton Ontario Canada

Managing Meltdowns

I recently enrolled in a workshop, offered in the Hamilton-Wentworth region through Hamilton Health Sciences called Managing Meltdowns; to learn strategies to deal with one of my mentally disabled granddaughter’s temper tantrums.

During the preliminary parental introductions I was surprised to learn some parents had raised one or two children who display regular temperaments, only to discover they then gave birth to a child with an extremely explosive temperament and found themselves at a total loss as to how to handle their meltdowns.

The staff hosting the program emphasized the strategies taught by child psychologist, Dr. Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child and Lost At School, and originator of the Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach. Recommended websites are http://www.LivesInTheBalance.org and http://www.ThinkKids.org.

Reading through a Behaviour Checklist helped our group recognize our children’s personality traits and what can specifically “set them off” and why. We were also asked to rate how close our children’s personalities are to our own, which at the outset felt a little redundant for me as my grandchildren are not of my blood line, my first husband and I having adopted their mother when she was just a few weeks of age, but while completing the comparison I was more than a little surprised to note on the temperament checklist that the first five temperaments: Activity/Energy Level, Regularity/Rhythmicity, Adaptability, Approach, and Intensity, were all shared at the same level by myself and my mentally disabled grandchildren, while the last four: Mood, Distractibility, Persistence and Attention Span, and Sensitivity, I was at the other extreme on the scale to my grandchildren. Interesting!

The above nine temperamental traits were described on the checklist this way:

  • Activity/Energy Level – Are you and your child always busy moving about or do you, s/he, prefer quiet activities?
  • Rhythmicity/ Regularity – Are you, your child, regular and predictable/unpredictable in your, his/her, sleeping, eating, and other bodily functions?
  • Adaptability – How do you, your child, react to change? Do you, he/she, find it difficult or easy to cope with transitions?
  • Approach – Do you, your child, jump right into the middle of new situations and greet new people right away or are you, your child, more cautious?
  • Intensity – How strongly do you, your child, react to events? Are you, s/he, intense or mild in your, his/her, reactions?
  • Mood – Do you, your child, usually show pleasant, joyful, friendly behaviour or do you, your child, respond by solemn, serious, crying or unfriendly responses?
  • Distractibility – Are you, your child, easily diverted from tasks, performance, and easily interfered with, and needs reminders to stay on track, or can you, your child, efficiently work in noisy places?
  • Persistence and Attention Span – Do you, your child, have the ability to stick with an activity despite interruptions or outside distractions? Attention span is demonstrated by how long a child sticks with an activity when there are no interruptions.
  • Sensitivity – Do you, your child, react to or notice slight changes in your, his/her, environment (e.g. temperature, noise, smell)?

Once our, and our children’s, temperaments were identified, we parents were given problem solving steps and de-escalation strategies to: Interrupt, Ignore, Redirect, and Reward, which were each discussed in full, to help simplify things at home and to ease the tension during meltdowns.

Many collaborative problem solving techniques are discussed during the full length of the program, with the goal being that parents reach a better understanding of their child’s meltdowns and learn to work collaboratively with their child to build communication.

Some recommended books are:

  • Stanley Turecki & L. Tonner, The Difficult Child, Bantam Books, 1989
  • Stella Chess & Alex Thomas, Know Your Child, Basic Books, 1987
  • Lyndall Shick, Understanding Temperament: Strategies for Creating Family Harmony, Parenting Press, 1998
  • William B. Carey, Understanding Your Child’s Temperament, Macmillan, 1997
  • Helen Neville & Diane Johnson, Temperament Tools: Working with Your Child’s Inborn Traits, Parenting Press, 1997

The program Managing Meltdowns runs for seven sessions. If you live in Hamilton, Ontario, or surrounding areas, call 905-521-2100 ext. 74243 for information or to register. If you would like to browse a current issue of the Growing Together Guide which lists programs for parents, youth, and children offered through Hamilton Health Sciences, visit http://www.communityed.ca, or if you would like assistance from agencies that support children, youth and families with behavioural, emotional or development concerns, call CONTACT Hamilton at 905-570-8888 for help in locating appropriate services.

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