Classroom meltdowns are not unusual; the key is learning different ways to defuse them.

How to Defuse a Child's Meltdown in the Classroom

by Jennifer Brozak

Perhaps you're a parent who also works as a classroom aide or day care provider. Maybe you teach religious-education classes at your local place of worship or enrichment classes down at the park. Whatever your position, you are aware that, when you teach young children, you need a special set of skills. Not only do you need to know how to wrangle and direct a room full of squirmy, energetic toddlers and preschoolers, but you also have to handle your young charges' often fickle moods and temperaments. One day, a certain child may be happy, helpful and calm; the next day, that little angel may throw a tantrum because one of her buddies won't let her use THAT red crayon, even though there are six other red crayons in the box. It's not unusual for toddlers and preschoolers to have meltdowns in a classroom setting; the secret is knowing different ways to defuse those behavior breakdowns before they escalate into full-blown, uncontrollable tantrums.

Stop It Before It Starts

Young children throw tantrums because they don't yet have the vocabulary or self-control to regulate their emotions. Say you're in the middle of arts and crafts time and notice a temper storm a-brewin': now is the time to act. Try speaking to the child quietly. Ask, "You seem like you're starting to get mad. Can you tell me what's upsetting you?" Or, "I see that you want to use Joey's crayon. Why don't you let Joey have it for one more minute, and then you can use it?" Sometimes you can defuse a meltdown by simply acknowledging the child's behavior.

Redirect and Relocate

If the above method doesn't work and the brewing storm starts to gain momentum, remove the child from the scene to eliminate distractions. Take her into a quiet area of the room or even into the hall. Ask her why she is so upset, and tell her you want to help her. Discuss a better way to handle her emotions. Be sure to always keep the other children in your line of sight, however; the last thing you want is to have to explain to a mom how Susie's lovely Sunday school outfit became a kaleidoscope of primary marker colors.

Be Assertive

Once you have managed to separate the child from the scene, tell her -- clearly and directly -- that her behavior is unacceptable. If the tantrum continues, a timeout chair can be helpful; have her sit for a few minutes to calm down and reflect on what she has done.

Reflect and Apologize

Once the child has calmed down, ask her, "Do you know why you were asked to sit in timeout?" After she tells you what she did wrong, ask her, "What do you think you could have done differently?" Then remind her that temper tantrums are not acceptable. If she was mean or disrespectful to you or another child, ask her to apologize, and then fuhgeddaboudit. Don't linger on what she did wrong. Instead...

Praise Good Behavior

Once the child returns to the classroom, be sure to acknowledge when she's acting appropriately. This can be as simple as saying, "You're playing so nicely with Sally. I like what I see!" or, "Because you shared your crayons with Timmy, you can be line leader today." Simple acts of encouragement can prevent future meltdowns. And always be sure to fill mom or dad in on any behavior issues -- good or bad -- that popped up during your time with the kids.

About the Author

As a mother, wife and recovering English teacher, Jennifer Brozak is passionate about all things parenting and education. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and St. Vincent College, Jennifer writes features for the IN Community magazine network and shares her daily escapades on her blog, One Committed Mama.

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