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Stop Meltdowns Before they Start

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

Preventing Meltdowns in Kids with Fragile X (Part Two)


If you haven't read Part One of this series, go back and have a look. It gives background into these concepts.


Down Arrows


A down arrow is anything that relaxes, bring positive emotions or processes emotions, regulates our kids, or helps them experience achievement or mastery. The idea here is that counteracting up arrows with down arrows creates emotional 'buffer' where it is less likely small stressors will send our kids into the ugly zone because they are lower on the curve.


Stressors will keep coming at our kids, so we need to counteract them with daily (yep, daily!) down arrows that start to bring them back down the stress curve. There's a few different categories of down arrows that it might be helpful to think about as you work to find your own kids down arrows.



Leisure


We are busy. Busier than we have ever been, with less leisure time according to some studies. But leisure time is how we get out of our fight or flight system and into our calm nervous system which is sometimes referred to as our 'rest and digest' system. When in this nervous system we are less reactive and more able to think clearly.


It's important to build daily leisure time into our kid's schedule. Some activities that may work for your kids are reading (alone or together depending on age), bushwalking, being in the backyard, playing at a park, colouring, baking, playing music, playing with toys or any other pursuits you observe typically leave your child centred and calm. For some with FXS, word searches or journaling can be therapeutic.



Relaxation


This is in some ways a subset of leisure, but is more focused on physical and emotional relaxation. Often parents need to scaffold this more for their children, as some activities that lead to relaxation can be avoided by kids with FXS (and neurotypical kids!). For example, cleaning their room can help kids feel their mind is calmer, however, is typically not favoured! Other examples are mindfulness meditations. Smiling Mind has great courses for all all groups that are developmentally appropriate (free). Stop Breathe Think had great stuff but can now only be accessed by our American friends. For those in Australia, 'Meditation for Kids' is a great app. It does cost ($37/year) but offers great mindfulness, sleep and hypnotherapy meditations (look for the Koala icon in the app store). You can also do informal relaxation exercises with your kids such as deep belly breathing.


Additionally, any exposure to cold water helps activate your child's parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system, so cold water in a zip lock bag in the fridge placed on the eyes, crystal quartz face rollers kept in the fridge, cold showers (if they're up for it!) or jumping in a pool all work well. Some kids also love massages as the proprioceptive input is calming and helps them feel grounded. Progressive Muscle Relaxation also has a lot of evidence behind it to suggest it's effective for decreasing stress and anxiety both in the moment and over time if practiced consistently. The basic idea is that your child tenses their feet for five seconds by curling their toes up as much as possible, then relaxes. Then they just work up their body doing the same process for each muscle. The Centre for Clinical Interventions in Western Australia also has this great free summary sheet.


Emotionally, helping kids process their emotions daily or regularly can help prevent a build up of hurt, confusion, anger or other painful emotions that are likely to push them up the curve. A great way to do this is use a small visual check in with them each afternoon- e.g. How am I doing? (0-10 or 'Ok', 'unsure', and 'not ok' categories. Why did I chose this number or category? Don't pressure them to talk, but allow them to unravel what's happened in the day if they need to.


Achievement and Mastery



This category is a bit tricky, as it can activate kids anxiety about performance. But if managed well, this category can be a great addition to your down arrow toolbox. Typically, things within or just outside kids comfort zones work well here. Anything you are not sure your kid can do- don't try as a down arrow! It can include playing around with musical instruments, completing a puzzle or Lego set, baking muffins, finishing a colouring page, or any other craft or home projects that you think would work.


Of course we can't prevent all of our child's meltdowns, however, with some daily practice to calm, relax and help them process everything that's happening for them, we can definitely make a dent on the number of times our kid ends up in a situation that sends them into the Ugly Zone.


Thanks to Dr. Crystal McMullen, my mentor, for first introducing me to this concept.

Thanks to Jon Busch for constructing the Stress Curve graph


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