The Brain Overload During Meltdowns Is REAL!

I was recently reminded that the total brain overload and loss of control in children during meltdowns is very real! Why? Because it happened to me!

I’m 34 and was recently at a public place with my husband and some other family members. At this place, I was treated disrespectfully.

Now, due to my severe cerebral palsy, people often treat me as a child or a person with a mental disability. Usually I take it in stride. I never make a scene in public. But, unfortunately, this time was different.

Instead of just brushing this person off and moving on, I lost it and yelled and said things that I regretted as soon as my brain came back under my control. My husband and family were trying to calm me down but my brain was stuck in “fight or flight” mode.

Looking back, it was weird but I had truly lost control of my impulse, self-control like young children do. My brain just got stuck. Usually I can talk myself down and use self-control. Not then.

After a few minutes as my brain came back to me and God gently convicted me, I realized I’d REALLY blown it. I wanted to disappear or run out. All I could do was look out the window and cry. I couldn’t stop crying.

Thankfully, my husband got me out of there, but not before I willingly and on my own accord, apologized to the person I had yelled at. The person graciously accepted my sincere apology. Of course, I prayed and asked God for forgiveness as well.

Once we left, I also apologized to my family. I felt awful that I acted so horribly. I still beat myself up over the incident even though weeks have passed since the incident occurred.

If you have been reading my blog recently, you are aware that my husband and I are grieving the loss of his mom, to whom I was quite close. It has been a rough few months for us. Looking back on this incident, it is obvious that grief played a major role in my very embarrassing public meltdown.

After all, I had never done this before in my life!  No, grief is not an excuse for my inappropriate response, but it is a good reason.

My point in telling this embarrassing story that I wish I could forget is that I think many adults think that children can control themselves in a full blown meltdown. They believe that children are just trying to manipulate us into giving them their way.

I can assure you from my incident that children absolutely can not control themselves during meltdowns. The brain gets overloaded with stress hormones and they truly lose control. Getting angry, yelling, spanking/hitting, shaming, or otherwise punishing them will only keep their brains in this heightened stress state longer. Had my husband and family scolded me or punished me, it would have only escalated things. Instead, they spoke calmly and offered comfort which allowed my brain to get unstuck in order for me to calm down and make things right. My tears became tears of godly sorrow for messing up.

When our children are in the throes of a meltdown, the best thing we can do is speak quietly and calmly to them and offer comfort until their brains come back under their control. The “fight or flight” response is very real and extremely powerful. The sooner we help them get out of that mode, the sooner we can teach them healthy calming and coping techniques to prevent that from happening most of the time as they grow.

We can also teach them that there are times throughout life where the stress and pain is too much for them to bear and they may get stuck and make a complete and utter fool of themselves, but God and we will be there to support, forgive, and help them through it.

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