9 Steps to Preventing and Stopping the Meltdowns and Tantrums

When people meet my son, they are often taken aback to learn he has a special need.  We are often complimented on how well behaved he is and how polite.  But, life was not always that way.

When our son was younger, could not speak at age five, and could not communicate to us anything without grunts, hitting, and kicking, we often felt like Annie Sullivan with Helen Keller. 

Helen Keller’s first experience with Anne Sullivan (an ABA therapist if ever I saw one)

One Christmas, when he was younger, I remember walking into a store and my son pulling the most epic of tantrums because he could not get the toy he wanted.  This was literally five minutes into walking into the store.

He threw himself on the floor, kicking, thrashing about, and screaming like a banshee.  Words did not help. 

The stares started.  The condescending looks.  My husband and I were faced with a choice: give in and get him what he wanted so badly or stand our ground.

I am stubborn…we stood our ground.

My son did not expect what I did next.  My husband continued with the shopping trip while I hauled our son (kicking and screaming) back to the car. I then put him in his seat, shut the door, and stood outside in the safety and relative peace and quiet.

My son spent the next 15 minutes kicking, screaming, and hitting everything he could reach, in the safety of the car and seat.  I was there ready to open the door at any moment should he become unsafe, or once he calmed down.  The windows were rolled down a bit (all safety precautions were met).

Once he calmed down (and stopped seeing red), my husband and I were able to talk to him about his behavior and how that was unacceptable.

This was our turning point. This was when I began to dig into every parenting book for strong-willed children I could get my hands on, every podcast, Ted Talk, everything I could find out about our son’s needs, how his brain worked, and how we could help him overcome the challenges he was born with.

Here are the top 9 things we learned about how to prevent and stop meltdowns, tantrums, and mayhem.

1.       Start Small: If your child is anything like mine, then you probably want to tackle everything at once.  Potty training.  Tantrums. Cleaning. Manners.  Unfortunately, we do not learn that way. Pick one to three things you want to focus on.  We chose behavior in a store and classroom and transitions from preferred to non-preferred activities.  

2.       Prep: So often I hear of parents who cave in the market check out line when their child starts a tantrum.  Or parents tell me of how exhausted they are from calls from the school and parent-teacher conferences.  I get it.  We could time the first call from the school to the exact day in the school year (Monday week three).  We once had three parent-teacher conferences in the first week and a half of school.  What we learned, prep.  Prep the child with what is expected of them and what they will earn if they accomplish it. Prep the teachers what is expected of both child and teacher.  Teachers have to be on board.  We had a system where I texted the teacher daily what our son was earning and the expectations.  This was helpful for consistency throughout the day.

3.       Be Consistent: I am a big proponent of this and will say it again.  Consistency is key.  If your child thinks he plays a parent against the other, if she thinks she can get away with something at school and not at home, if a child sees a weakness in defenses anywhere – they will exploit it! Be consistent and work as a team.

4.       Incentivize: I get the most push-back on this.  “I don’t want to bribe my child.”  “I don’t want my child thinking they get a treat just for making choices expected of them.”  “I don’t want to bribe my child.” I get that.  First, an incentive is not a bribe.  A bribe is reactionary – an in the moment choice: “If you stop throwing a fit, then I will get you the candy you are hollering about.”  This teaches the child that enough public humiliation for you as the parent gets them what they want.  An incentive is a contract.  A contract between parent and child of what is expected on both sides.  If you keep your hands in your pocket in the store/if you use please and thank you/if you finish your homework without asking, then you get a balloon/piece of candy/star on your chart.  This is actually a great way to start teaching finances and economy as this is a practice we adults use daily.  Work an hour and I will pay you $10.00, don’t complete the work well, and you are fired. Instead of hourly work, they are doing task work – like an independent contractor.

5.       Diet: Food affects behavior.  Food was not something we originally tracked. I am so glad we did.  By tracking his food, in combination with behavior, we learned that within 24 hours (to the minute) of having dairy, our son would have very negative behavior.  We learned that when he ate a lot of processed food, high sugar foods, his focus decreased and his attitude was negative. We later learned this was because he was having stomach issues (he couldn’t tell us his stomach hurt).  A great cookbook that helped us get started on a healthier diet for him is The Brain Food Cook Book, written by a mom of a special need’s kiddo.  I have to say, some of our favorite recipes are in this book, and the tips on how to do this without breaking the bank and how the brain works is incredible.  Our son’s neurologist concurred and said it was because of his diet and his oxidated stress regime, our son did not need medication for his migraines and other neurological issues.

6.       Medication: If you can avoid it, I personally recommend avoiding medication.  In our experience, when Kennedy Krieger doctors told us they don’t know enough about the need and effect of medication long-term on children, we were very hesitant.  However, the school system we were in at the time, told us without medication they would not teach our child.  The daycare echoed this.  (NOTE: This is not legal, and we should have fought it, but didn’t know at the time we could).  The medication prescribed was only approved in adults with heart conditions.  The bi-product was helping with behavior in children, but no long-term studies had been done.  We later learned (three years on the mediation), that there were studies showing his medication could lead to cancer long term.  They did help.  If that is what you think is best for your child, do what is best for your child. 

7.       Oxidated Stress: This an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage.  This occurs naturally.  There are some peer-reviewed studies showing this affects everything from thyroids (almost 5,000), cancers (nearly 90,000), ADHD (nearly 2,000), and Autism (nearly 3,000). How do you combat this naturally occurring process? Fruits and vegetables are a start.  We also switched to “clean” cleaning products (chemical free), decreased screen time, and increased time outside. We incorporated Protandim into our life.  After a month on this vitamin, our son’s monthly to quarterly ER visits for stomach migraines decreased to none in the past three years, our son’s focus and attention increased (he is 11 reading at a ninth-grade level and taking a college music course), and he has been completely off medication for three years (taken off under the care of his physician).  We get ours from Life Vantage (patented formula).

8.       Track: It is important to only start one behavioral change at a time.  Introducing too many variables at once will not let you know which ones do anything.  We started with diet, then added medication, then dealt with oxidated stress – which eventually got him completely off medication.  Track measurable things – how often the school calls, grades, attention while reading, how long it takes to complete a task. Below are some great resources we used, and use, to help us. I recommend making them editable and laminating them. This reduces waste and allows you modify based on age and behavior. Dry erase markers work great on these.

9.       Celebrate and Recycle: Celebrate the win! Talk with your child about how proud you are of their progress. Celebrate the hard work it took them to accomplish that goal. Then, start the process over on a new behavior or more advanced behavior.  Humans should never stop learning and growing.  This is especially important for children.  When one thing is mastered, move on to the next level or new behavior. 

For more ideas on how to help avoid meltdowns and mayhem, take a look at my Facebook page.

10 Goal Setting Steps to Success

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

Lawrence J. Peter
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There is something about the cooler weather and beauty of the leaves turning colors that bring a refreshing change in perspective. Nature is discarding the old to make way for the new.  There is a fresh beginning in the atmosphere as school starts across the country and fresh excitement builds.

Starting a school year is a great time to re-evaluate your goals.  Remember those New Year Resolutions?  If you haven’t checked in on them yet, now is a great time.  Never made a resolution?  Now is a great time to set some realistic goals.  This is a great time for students and parents alike to set up goals for the year.   This is a great time to set up a vision.

Where do you start?  How do you set goals that will make a lasting impact? Should they be long term or short term? 

Let’s demystify the practice of great goal setting.  Here are 9 simple steps to goal setting and achievement.

Why the secret to success is setting the right goals | John Doerr

1.      Evaluate/Discover Your Why: Goals, by nature, are to help you become a better person, better at something.  They are a progression toward success.  Before setting a goal, it is essential you discover your strengths and weakness.  What are you good at?  What are you not good at?  What skills do you have?  What skills do you need?  What are your fears?  Weaknesses? Passions? Values? Knowing where you are starting from is essential to know how to get where you are going.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail Big, To Dream Big – Denzel Washington | Goalcast

2.      Dream Big: Life is short.  What is the point of goals if we are not dreaming big!  Some questions to ask might be if today was your last day, what three things would you like to do? What legacy do you want to leave behind?  Why is that important? What does success look like in 3 months? 12 months? 5 years? Make a mission statement.  Have a word to ground you this year. Put that mission statement and word in a place you see it daily.  I use my planner and have the mission statement and word as my wallpaper on devices.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

3.      Triplets: Setting goals takes utilizing little action steps.  I use the triplet technique.  What three things will I do every morning and every evening?  What three ways will I connect with my family and friends?  What three things will I avoid? What three ways will I reward myself for success?

Everything About Vision Boards – How to Create and Use a Vision Board

4.      Vision Board: I love a good vision board!  I also, love one that is easily changeable.  A good vision board should show the END GOAL.  This will serve as motivation on those days you have no energy or desire to put in the work.  Those days will come. I use magazines, art, leaders, and celebrities I would want to immolate, and quotes on mine.  I have a financial advisor that had a voided check written out to him in the amount of $1,000,000.00 on his board with a glamourous house.  I have a friend who wanted to go to Harvard.  Her board had a picture of the school and the campus colors.  Once you have a board, put it where you will see it all the time.  My son has his in his room.  I keep mine in my planner (so I can see it no mater where I am).

SMART Goals – Quick Overview

5.      Set some realistic goals: Often I am asked if a student for school should focus only on academic goals.  I say no.  A student is a person; a person should focus on all aspects of their life when goal setting.  When setting goals, consider setting personal goals, family/friend goals, and academic/professional goals.  Each goal needs to be clear.  Have a purpose behind the goal.  The reason for doing something is essential to motivation to succeed.  Set the action steps up right then.  Set target dates to achieve.   I like to start with three goals in each category for the year.

Target dates are flexible, but help give a deadline to work toward.  These should be specific.  The key to goal setting success is specificity and motivation.  The more specific the goal, action steps, and target date are, the more likely you are to succeed.

Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

6.      Monthly focus/Action Steps:  Each month, I choose a new word to focus on that supports my yearly word.  I start the month looking at what I need to do more of and what I need to less of.  This helps me set my monthly smaller goals in each category (personal, family/friends, and professional/academic.   I also use this time to break each goal down into tangible smaller action steps I can reach in a month. 

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

7.      Track Progress: It is easy to get discouraged when you do not see progress.  Good progress is slow progress.  Those who follow me, know I love tracking progress in all aspects of life. I bring this same practice into my goal setting.  Each month, I use the Habit Tracker for each goal I have.  This lets me know which days of the month, how often I am succeeding, and how often I am not succeeding at my goals.  This is a quick look at where I have succeeded and failed. I use this simple document (free download below). Each goal gets its own monthly tracking grid.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

8.      Reflect and Review: Achieving goals is a process.  We learn through reflection and review.  Without evaluating where we have been and where we are, there is no way to achieve accomplishing what we set out to do.  Weekly, my family reflects on what we are grateful for.  Life is hard and failure is a part of the process.  But focusing on this can be debilitating in a number of areas.  Finding one to five things a week you are grateful for, helps change that process.  Each month, we look at the top 5 things we accomplished.  Then we look at where we failed to make progress (or flat-out failed).  The Habit Tracker helps us evaluate.  But, we also discuss how we are feeling about our progress and WHY we failed or succeeded. I know I am pushing knowing the why, but reasons we do things helps us understand our success and failures. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

9.       Revise: Reviewing and reflecting on goals is not helpful if you do not take action on what you learned.  Use this time to re-evaluate and revise your goals.  Life moves at a fast pace.  What may have seemed doable a month ago, may not be impossible in that time frame.  You may need to move your action dates.  Or maybe, you realize a goal is not for you.  This is the time to see what needs to change in your goals, your life, and action to make success a reality.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

10.       Reward: I love rewards!  I am a firm believer in rewarding yourself for achieving the difficult.  Knowing there is a reward at the end of the line, is great motivation to keep moving when things get hard.  Sometimes it is a simple matter of making a deal with yourself. When a goal is achieved, or a significant milestone, reward yourself.  Lost weight? Get new clothes.  Learned a new instrument?  Set up a concert or video share? Mastered the sewing machine?  Share the product with your family and friends.  Rewards can be big or small. 

Goal setting is so important to self-growth, growth in business, growth in our relationships and so much more.  Teaching our children how to set and achieve goals is a life lesson that will benefit them in more than just academics.  Doing this together as a family will strengthen your bond.  Goal setting as a family also gives an added benefit of built-in accountability partners. 

Key to Unlocking the Mystery

Your life does not get better by chance. It gets better by change.

Jim Rohn

When people learn that, especially those with special needs children, I am immediately asked what we did to help him? Was it the medication? Was it diet? Was it therapy?  The answer is teamwork.

It is a process, like all parenting.  No one expects their five-year-old to do laundry.  No one expects their sixteen-year-old to sign a loan.  It is a process of teaching and learning on both sides of the parenting aisle. 

Track Changes

It is really easy to share about the rough days in the lives of special needs.  But all that does is focus on the negative and does not act toward a solution.  Maybe it is the researcher in me, or maybe it is my determination to understand the why, or maybe it is my sheer stubbornness, but I was determined to not let my child use his diagnosis as a crutch.  And I was not going to let the world do that either.

But, when your kid cannot talk at age five, you might think this is not possible.  I am can confidently say it does not have to be.

The first thing I am always told is that is way too much work. And if you approach it like that, you may find it is. But I did not. In total, once I had a system, it took about 15 minutes a day…and the data was AMAZING!

Here is how it was done and some lessons we learned:

STEP ONE: Get Everyone on Board

This is probably the hardest step.  When you think about it, you leave your kids in the hands of others sometimes up to 40 hours a week.  This could be a teacher, an aide, a therapist, a Sunday School teacher, or a babysitter.  Everyone is different and so what is considered bad behavior for one may be tolerable or expected behavior to another. It is essential to get everyone on the same page.

We developed an easy light system, much like a street light, that could be used in all locations.  Because it could be used in all locations, our son knew what was expected from him at all times.

The Color System

There are four colors and the frequency of use changes with age and need.  When we started at age five, our son had the opportunity to earn 15 blues a day.  We believe in grace – no one has a perfect day every day.  To that end, we always allow a place for imperfection.  When he was younger, our son could earn 10 blues and greens and still earn whatever incentive he was working for. Now, there are certain actions that automatically mean he loses his incentive but he also has fewer chances to earn things. We break the day up by activity now not by the hour.

Before we get too far, let me explain what an incentive is and is not. 

An incentive is NOT a bribe.  A bribe is a reward given in extreme frustration to a child misbehaving.  An incentive is a reward given in a contract.  I will do an entire blog on this next, but for now, this should get you where you need to go.

Breaking up the day by activity and time helps understand what topics and times of day may need more or less attention

Here are the colors:

Blue: This is beyond what you would expect from a child – excellent behaviors, no reminders, best kid you ever met. This would be an A+ student.

Green: Exactly what you would expect from a child.  Nothing too bad and nothing too good. This would be a B/A student.

Yellow: Walking a dangerous path.  Perhaps you need to give some warnings.  Perhaps there is an attitude creeping into the child’s tone.  This is your warning.  This would be C student.

Red: Game over! This behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.  This is an F student.

The color system is easy to explain to other adults and is easy to teach to your child.  

Seeing at glance improvement over time helps bring scope and value to the progress made

How do you keep track during those times you are not with your kids?

We used a grid system of school subject, time of day and days of the week.  We found this was easy for the provider or teacher to be able to communicate to us how the day went without having to write a book.

On the back of our weekly grid was any comments the aide, teacher, or babysitter wanted to provide with why they chose that color or any specific good or bad behavior of which we needed to be aware.

I then kept all of these in a three-ring binder divided by school year.  Once a month I would count up the blues, greens, yellows, and reds and have a clear indication of which direction my child was going.  This also helped when speaking with occupational, speech and ABA therapists to help see what times of days and what subject’s in school were more problem areas and where we could spend less time and focus.

STEP TWO: Track A-B-C Behavior

A-B-C behavior is your lifesaver! This data tells you so much about your child from what they like or dislike to how they may be physically feeling to how smart they are.

What is it?  Antecedent, behavior, consequence.  I will spend more time on this is a future blog on ABA therapy, but here is what you need to know to get started. 

I used a chart of date and time with A-B-C.

This helped me track where trouble times of the day may be (like right before bed or end of the week due to exhaustion) or certain activities which may be frustrating to my kiddo (like math and homework at the end of the day). 

What are some antecedents?  Transitions, change in routine, a difficult task (anything from buttoning clothes to multiplying fractions – wherever your kid is) can all be antecedents.  This is what occurs prior to the behavior you are seeing.  This is super helpful when communicating with other adults, especially babysitters, so they can know how better to help your kiddo,

Behavior is simply that – what behavior did your child exhibit?  Was he eloping? Was he hurting himself or others?  Was he not doing work (avoiding what was requested of him)?  What action took place?

Consequence is essential.  This goes hand in hand with incentives.  The key to a good consequence is that it is known in advance and is followed through on consistently.  CONSISTENTLY.  If this is not consistent, everything is lost!

For adults, we know if we steal, we go to jail. This is a law.  This is not just a law on books, it is common law – do not steal or you go to jail.  You know the consequence in advance.  If you steal one time, you go to jail (when the system works correctly).  When you steal again, you go to jail.  The rules do not change and the consequences do not change.  We, as humans, respond best to consistency.  It is essential the consequences are communicated to the child, the caregiver, and your partner and you are on the same page.  If your kid can get away with task avoidance with Dad and not Mom, this will not work. 

Tracking this information is essential to not only understand your child and what makes them tick but helps you as a parent teach self-control, responsibility, and rule of law (which every society everywhere has some form).  This also, over time, makes your life parenting much easier.  No more repeating yourself.  No more fighting with your kiddo.  This allows them to start feeling independent.

Grid of time and date, next colum initials of who saw behavior, Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence are the next three columns
Seeing what is the antecedent helps to discover how to help solve problems we cannot see.

STEP THREE: Track What You Eat

This may sound a bit absurd, but believe me, it is more helpful than a pedestrian visit.  When we started tracking what our kiddo ate, we could see and anticipate behavior.

My mom used to make the most incredible cakes for our birthdays…all our eight birthdays a year.  And every time one of us kid had a birthday, my mom would get sick.  It took forever for the doctors to figure out what was happening until they tracked the ingredients she used in the frosting of the cake.  She was allergic, but did not know it.  Tracking the daily helped the doctors (and my mom) to figure out the problem.

We decided to not wait for a doctor to tell us to do this.  We just started to do it.  What we discovered changed our lives.

When our son eats dairy, any dairy, within 24 hours to the minute, he is having behavior problems.  This was essential information when he could not speak.  But it also helps us now that he can.  Our son is not allergic to dairy, but he cannot physically process it.  This leads to stomach aches and headaches which leads to less focus, patience, and acceptance in situations that may otherwise be easy to handle for him. 

How did we discover this?  We tracked his meals.  Every day for two years.  We saw the trend at six months, but did a full two-year study for certainty.  And because data is indispensable.  This essential data has come in handy when talking to his therapists, pediatrician, allergist, and teachers.  It has also helped create a much more calm home environment. 

This is super easy now with apps for food tracking (just google a play store app for a diet and millions pop up). 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

STEP FOUR: Pray

Many of you know I am Christian.  I think God played (and continues to play) a large role in the success of my family.  From the day my son came into my life, I have prayed for him.  I have prayed for healing.  I have prayed he has control over his emotions.  I have prayed he has a heart for obedience and compassion for others. 

Most of these things a child on the spectrum, especially those that cannot express themselves, have trouble with.  There were days our son would hit, kick, scream and bite because he could not tell us his stomach hurt or that he did not like the texture of a food.  Simple things to those with the gift of language. 

It can be, often is, and has been over-whelming. 

But I have learned specific prayers get specific answers.  Within a year of praying my son could speak in complete sentences.  Though we still have spitting and kicking outbursts, the frequency of these has decreased dramatically – from constant throughout the day to maybe once to twice a month in four years.

Though I know not all follow my God, I highly recommend prayer or mediation of some kind.  I have found it to not only calm me but has allowed me to approach problems from outside of them not stuck in the middle of them.

                What we Have Learned

Data is key to understanding your child, especially if they are non-verbal.  It can be easier than you think with grids and check-boxes.  It takes less time than you think with apps and only 10 to 15 minutes a day.  It brings more peace, calm, and happiness to your child because you understand them more, but also to your home.

Do not feel over-whelmed.  Do what you can do and let the rest fall by the way-side.  Not every kid is the same and not every kid will respond the same way.  I do highly recommend, above all else, consistency in your home with both praise and consequences. 

Your life does not get better by chance. It gets better by change.Jim Rohn

When people learn that, especially those with special needs children, I am immediately asked what we did to help him? Was it the medication? Was it diet? Was it therapy?  The answer is teamwork.

It is a process, like all parenting.  No one expects their five-year-old to do laundry.  No one expects their sixteen-year-old to sign a loan.  It is a process of teaching and learning on both sides of the parenting aisle.