You’ve tried everything. Deep breathing, counting down, time out. Nothing has worked. Here is the good news: you are NOT alone.
Your child seems to go from 0 to 60 and cannot be reasoned with. As an adult who was this child, let me tell you, telling us to take a deep breath only increases our frustration. Also, as an overwhelmed parent, you cannot force your child to breathe. Only they can do that. Once their body is out of control due to sensory dys-regulation, you can try using sensory calming strategies. You can try: quiet time (use this wording instead of time out), hugs, or swinging.
Using these strategies will only work if your child understands you are trying to help. Sit down, have a chat with them. Explain to them that when they start to feel upset, they can try those three things. However, if they aren’t able to do this alone, then ask their permission while they are calm if you can help them out.
I am a huge advocate of using the quiet time strategy, as this is something we use as adults everyday. I often try relating to kids and telling them it is okay to feel this way, but it is not okay to do something you may regret. Try this instead: walking away and going to a designated space to chill out. And yes, this is a sensory strategy due to TAKING away the stimuli (such as noise/light) that may be impacting your child. Give an example to your child of a time when you have removed yourself from a situation, and how that was a better choice than staying there.
Hugs target the proprioceptive system. Basically this is the system that “grounds” you, quite literally. By giving the body feedback via joint compressive from hugs, your body calms down. This is due to the sensory system being regulated and having a better understanding of where you are in time and space.
Swinging or rocking targets the vestibular system. Rhythmic motions can help calm the body. Think back to when your child was a baby, how did you calm them down - rocking/bouncing are common ways to calm babies down. This also works for children and adults.
Unfortunately after a sensory meltdown, your child will be full and anxiety and regret. This is not a time for punishment. This is a time to educate them on better choices they can make. For example say: “Jimmy, I understand that you could not control yourself when you threw and broke the plate. Next time I would like you to make a better choice and throw a pillow at the couch.” You can also ask them why they got so upset (find out the trigger) and tell them next time when that trigger occurs they can go to quiet time.
Now, this may not help every child as every child is different, but it can be a jumping off point. If you have any questions about your child, please feel free to reach out to ABC Pediatric Therapy.
-Chloe Ruggiero, MOTR/L