If anything will set off a meltdown, tantrum (or whatever you’d like to call it) it’s a birthday party. Isla loves the idea of them and always has a lot of fun but the end result is her normally losing the plot.
This is what happened again in the weekend which left me feeling mortified, embarrassed and frustrated.
Isla was so excited about the party.
We had talked through all possible scenarios. We had arranged a separate piece of chocolate cake with plain icing and without lollies.
We managed to get around the sushi that wasn’t her normal chicken and cucumber variety with a promise I would get some at a later date.
We replaced the juice quickly with water and a straw.
She sat through “Happy Birthday” blocking her ears as the singing was too loud for her.
She was happy to be restrained so she couldn’t blow out the candles on the cake.
She helped unwrap a couple of presents but then she sat mostly still while the birthday girl opened the rest of her gifts.
We sat outside and watched the piñata game through the window as Isla doesn’t like “candy” and didn’t want to be part of that particular game.
It was very hard for her to keep this all under control as well as dealing with all the sensory overload a birthday party brings.
So when a thoughtful gift to each child was given out at the end of the party Isla lost the plot. She wanted what everyone else had and she could no longer control her emotions.
I should have seen the signs. She was having so much fun but she was tired and over stimulated. She had been picking her fingers a lot, sucking her finger and saying she was tired.
I quickly removed her from the situation, carrying my 9 year old girl like a toddler. I took her to the quiet and tried to calm her down. She was hysterical and couldn’t be talked around.
It’s times like these when it feels like we haven’t progressed at all from the little girl at kindy who always wanted it to be her turn! There hasn’t been a birthday party where we have escaped without an emotional meltdown of some sort. She continues to develop in so many ways but this behaviour largely remains the same. From zero to hundred with no impulse control.
I often see things written about the difference between two different types of outbursts that children have. Tantrums and meltdowns. Tantrums are are an angry or frustrated outburst in which children sometimes unknowingly manipulate those around them for a purpose. A meltdown relates more to a reaction of being overwhelmed by sensory overload and is often out of a child’s control.
According to these theories Isla is still having tantrums as she is normally appeased by getting what she wants. It does seem though that when she is overstimulated she loses her ability to think logically and control her emotions.
At times like these it is best to remove her from the situation as quickly as possible with minimum interaction. It’s a fine line between giving into her so she can have an enjoyable experience and using the opportunity to teach her that this behaviour will not be rewarded.
Most of the time, although she seems very distressed, I am okay with seeing out the duration of the tantrum. Sometimes this is out of my control. Well meaning people who feel sorry for her and for me looking harassed, will quickly come to our aid offering the desired object. But by the time we have reached this point I know nothing will really help, apart from getting her out of the situation as quickly as possible. Even if she gets her own way it doesn’t take much to set her off again. However now she is bigger, I have to wait until she has calmed down enough for me to move her and often to gather my things and say my goodbyes.
There are always exceptions, for example if we are in a public setting and Isla is causing a scene there is often no other option than to give into her quickly before it escalates and we become the main attraction!
Over the years she has learnt to move on more quickly after having an outburst. But when things have been bubbling under the surface for a while it will often result in a huge explosion of emotion that takes her a while to recover from.
We have pretty much tried everything to stop this happening. Social stories – preparation is key but you can’t prepare for every eventuality. Consequences – this sometimes works if she is not too emotionally distressed. Distraction and bribery – you can sometimes talk her round.
Although her Assistance Dog Bo helps her hugely when she gets tired from overstimulation and she can cuddle up as a comfort, when she is having an outburst he can’t reassure her. But he does anchor her if she decides to take flight and this is helpful when out in public.
After the event Isla can see reason and understands what she did was unacceptable. You would think this would be enough for her not to do it again, but unfortunately not.
We had agreed on a trip to the toy shop if she got through the party controlling her emotions. I had to tell her that we couldn’t go which added to her despair!! That was hard as she had tried…. I saw her trying really hard.
For read more about sensory processing click here