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Dealing with Meltdowns, Building Positive Memories and Working with the Brain

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Do you ever ‘lose it’ when your child is having a meltdown? Do you ever feel that this may never ever end? Do you feel hopeless as you try strategies that have your friends have given you, but don’t work? Read on and you may actually have found the one that does work, as I did. This was the turning point for me that improved my emotional health and developed my relationship with my son into a much more meaningful and enjoyable one.

Meltdowns are a part of many parents lives who have children with special needs, as well as those who have no diagnosis and how we deal with these meltdowns can make or break the downward spiral. We can work with our child’s brain to enable our children to have more successfully mature and emotional judgemental outcomes by using relatively straight-forward strategies which I will now try to explain with the help of Dr Daniel Siegal and Dr Tina Payne Bryson’s book The Whole Brain Child as well as neuroscientist Dr Caroline Leaf from her publication Switch on your Brain.

This is what typically happens when our child is having a meltdown or tantrum. The root cause could be fear or anger but at this point the child is unable to control these emotions. (We must also bear in mind that there are other types of tantrums that are pre-determined, they would need to be dealt with differently).

What we need to be aware of firstly is that during this emotional turmoil, we need to relieve the child of this experience and help them gain an understanding of what set them off using the frontal lobe to reason the whole cause. Dr Siegal and Bryson call this dealing with the upstairs and the downstairs brain. The upstairs brain is the frontal lobe which governs judgement and reason,and the downstairs brain is the amygdala that is situated in the limbic region. Basically, the amygdala takes over when the meltdown is in full swing, therefore the frontal lobe has been totally hijacked and cannot function!


Step One

Think and remember about the brain functions and try to calm your child down. This could involve expressing your empathy in a loving tone, letting him/her know that you understand how s/he feels. Accompanying this with soft strokes and hugs  should eventually calm your child and allow the frontal lobe to kick in.

Step Two

Once we have calmed our child, we can then explain what caused the loss of control. Whatever the cause, in most instances it can be explained. For example, if your child played football and was consistently kicking the ball too high that it nearly went over the fence into private land and you warned your child that it would take a while to retrieve. Eventually the ball was kicked over the fence and your child’s downstairs brain has taken control. Once the upstairs brain is back on track s/he can then understand this reasoning and accept the consequences of not keeping the ball low enough and therefore could not get the ball back straightaway. This is the optimum time to talk about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.


I recently ran a positive thinking talking group with five nine and ten year olds. They were a very mixed group of personalities, all very bright with just a couple having some behaviour and social issues.

What I discovered about them was quite revealing as they expressed their own stories, thoughts and emotions and led me to wonder how other children deal with emotional quadries in their everyday lives.

I am now going to outline the process that the children learned about how the brain initiates knock-on effects whenever there is a thought, positive or negative. Thoughts run through our minds most of the time, and each thought affects each one of us as adults and children: our emotions, behaviour, reasoning and long-term memory.

When talking with my nine and ten year olds, we discussed different calming down options they might use. They expressed that they get annoyed and as such they do not all typically have meltdowns, but they said how useful it was to know how the brain works and what to do. Some strategies they used included reading a book for escapism, listening to music and going to their room to wind down. Other effective options include deep breathing and taking a  walk or some other exercise.

When we have negative memories, we can biologically replace them with positive ones and we can eventually teach our children to do the same.

Firstly, building a positive short-term memory and eliminating negative ultimately boils down to five steps according to Dr Leaf on the principles and the discoveries of the parts of the brain in the limbic region located at the centre of the brain. The amygdala, hypothalamus, thalamus and the hippocampus.

As we have a thought, the amygdala steps in and releases chemicals based on the type of thought it is. If it is a negative thought, it releases certain chemicals that get sent to the thalamus which is converted to a negative emotion or emotions. When we are feeling and experiencing that emotion, multisensory in nature, we are unable to think reasonably, thus, we cannot reason nor judge in a balanced way about the root of the emotion or thought because our frontal lobe has little power left and all resources have rushed to the amygdala. The amygdala is programmed to receive positive thoughts and has wonderfully positive repercussions. The negative repercussions on the other hand, cause stress on our mental and physical well-being.

The Deep Thinking Brain Technique

All our behaviours and attitudes are a result of our unique brain and our unique brain is a result of our behaviours and attitudes. So, ultimately we have to work on our brains to make us the people we desire to become, because we can change our brains.

Firstly choose to have a daily life where you control your thoughts- to be happy and healthy.

We then need to wire into our neuronal networks positive thoughts by gathering our past memories through knowledge, events, circumstances and ideas, and reflecting on these including writing them down which is useful.

Separate the negative and positive memories and write your desired positive alternatives to the existing negative ones. Then redesign the negative thought by changing it or strengthening it.

Think about your reaction to the thought

For example..

.. I have a memory of my child having a meltdown and destroying everything in my kitchen!

I contemplate that memory which involved a lot of anguish on my part as well.

Now I want to change this negative memory by replacing it with my son displaying really cheerful behaviour which is also part of who he is, and my consequential joy at his behavioral progress.

My reaction to this thought releases the chemicals in my brain giving me positive emotions which the amygdala then sends to my hippocampus for memory storage.

I need to revisit this thought every day for 21 days for permanent long-term storage and change from my negative memory to positive.

Where A.R.R.O.W. Fits In

The A.R.R.O.W. Literacy Programme developed by Dr Colin Lane, works in much the same way, which is why the positive changes a user experiences with short term memory, self-esteem and general literacy and maths skills are extraordinary. The five steps in this case involve the seeing and hearing of a tutor voice, responding, using one's own voice, hearing your voice and reinforcing it by writing it down and checking it. With the saturation principle in force, the brain is processing the material in much the same way, with positive thoughts and the release of the chemicals that cement  the emotions and learning as the process is repeated.

This change means that as we think more deeply, the more the change we can make, and what is actually happening is that electromagnetic and quantum forces together with the neurotransmitters (positive happiness chemicals) activate genetic expression and protein synthesis. The proteins are used to grow new dendrites (branches) to hold our thoughts.

As I have applied these practices, I feel that I have a much better handle of everyday life, although I still have my off days. However, these are significantly less frequent and the gain of my happiness lever means that I can enjoy my child with the confidence of handling any meltdowns without added stress for me, which ultimately can trigger a prolonged meltdown or more frequent ones.

Everything we read, watch and listen to will impact our conscious and subconscious minds. So, to accompany our positive thought-life, surrounding ourselves with an uplifting environment will build on developing a hopeful and positively happy life enabling us and our children to have more often the power to deal with challenges that will confront us generally and as we expect positive outcomes and develop strategies to deal with our children's difficult daily moments, these will give us the peace of mind and emotional security we desperately need.

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