This is a great question and one I could have written myself about six months ago. The bulk of the changes will be done outside the meltdown and will likely reduce the number and severity of tantrums. Here’s what I would suggest:
Request an Occupational Therapy Evaluation
(Please note that I’m not an occupational therapist. These suggestions are based on personal experience and my work with children as a mental health therapist. None of these ideas are a replacement for seeking professional consultation.)
Build in Daily "Yellow" Activities
Some of our favorite yellow activities are:
- Bike riding
- Playing with playdough/magnatiles/legos
- Taking a bath
- Digging in sand or mud
- Activity/coloring/sticker books
Simplify the Environment and Schedule
If you have a particularly busy day planned, cushion the busy day with mellow days on either end. Cut back screen time. Ensure that the playroom or bedroom where your child spends the majority of the time playing is simple. Many of our children are surrounded by more toys than they could ever actually play with at a given time. Put at least half the toys away.
Make sure your child has plenty of time for free play and isn’t overscheduled. Spends lots of time outside. Ensure that your child has ample time to run, ride bikes, climb trees, hike, etc. Balance that time with quiet opportunities for pretend play and books.
You can read more about the benefits of simplifying childhood here, and I recommend this article to learn more about specific strategies we have used to reduce stimulation in our home.
Recognize Your Child’s Limits
During the Tantrum
It’s important to note that both during the tantrum and while your child is engaged in the yellow activity are not the times to talk about whatever prompted the meltdown. Doing so will likely result in another meltdown. The discussion is important, particularly if there was hitting or name calling. However that comes later, possibly even the next day depending on the time of day. Your child can’t hear you when she’s still teetering on the edge of green, and it simply won’t be a productive talk.
My last suggestion is to take this quiz to determine if your child is highly sensitive. Highly sensitive children often feel things deeply and experience overwhelming emotions. They are also slower to develop emotion regulation and respond well to gentle discipline. They are often misunderstood and challenging, but we can learn so much from their sensitive spirits and deeply feeling hearts.