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How You Can Help Me When My Child Is Having a Public Meltdown

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We have all been there. We enter a store and see or hear a sometimes not-so-small child lashing out. It can be verbal. It can be continuous screams, and instantly those of us with soft hearts are drawn to do something. I have always been that way, but since having our sweet Serrie, I am even more aware that the struggle can be real.

Twice in the last month, my sweet girl has been overwhelmed on outings to stores. One thing I loved as a parent was taking my kiddos to Target, talking as we whizzed up and down aisles exploring all the sights, sounds and smells. Since Seraphina’s diagnosis, those trips come with trepidation.

Friends have begun to open up with questions for me, and I welcome them. I will say, this is a bird’s eye view, from one bird. I am one person sharing our journey. It by no means will cover all children on the spectrum but may give you some insight on how to help others when you see them struggling while out and about.

1. Assess the situation. Is this a meltdown or is this a tantrum? Typically tantrums end by early school age, and though they may appear once in a while the frequency is lessened as kiddos develop. If a child seems like they are older, this may be a meltdown they cannot control.

2. Have compassion. Put yourself in the shoes of the parent or the child. These children, though seeming out of control, know what is going on and not only are they struggling, they too often feel emotional or physical pain, so before judgment, have compassion.

3. If you know the person, offer help. I am an open book. I will share. If you see me with Seraphina, and she is melting, often I will embrace her with firm arms. I will try to control her body and often will console her, much like a parent of a newborn trying to calm their little nervous system overrun by external factors. I will also always tell her, “I am here, I won’t leave you, we will get through this together.” I say the same thing over and over so eventually one day she may know I understand, I am here and I promise to give her all of me until she is once again calm.

4. If you don’t know the person, take a deep breath, smile and be kind. You will know if you can help usually by body language. If you can help, offer to help with siblings. In these moments, my biggest concern is her, so I need help with siblings. You can distract them by calmly talking to them, asking about their day, trying to get them to know they are just as important as the child in need.

5. Don’t stare. A few weeks ago at Target, Seraphina had a meltdown. It was intense. I sat on the seat of the big cart and tried to cradle her. I watched as an older lady walked by glaring, for 40 minutes. I am certain she had other stuff to do. I am also fairly certain she was judging. I need no judgment during those moments. I need compassion and understanding. If you choose not to understand, that is OK too — just don’t make me feel worse than I already do.

Meltdowns are uncomfortable. Period. There is no denying it, but with the numbers of kiddos being diagnosed on the spectrum, meltdowns in public are going to be more common. Remember, compassion, kindness and concern will go a long way as we watch our world change to include these kids who just need a little extra love.

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Originally published: February 19, 2018
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