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Avoiding Meltdowns in Public

Posted by Gabriel Williams on

There is an apprehension every parent faces when heading out with their kids in public. The idea of a meltdown in the middle of a public space can seem like a nightmare situation. For parents of autistic children, meltdowns are to be expected and prepared for.

When dealing with meltdowns, try to become aware of what triggers them. This is the “trial by fire” stage in this process as you figure out what factors come into play. Anything such as location, physical health, or perhaps your mood can act as triggers for a meltdown. Consider which stores, parks, or other common places you take your kids to, these are the places to be the most mindful about and prepared for as they tend to result in the most meltdowns.

Knowing the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum will help save you from needless grief as well. While a tantrum may happen when a child does not get their way, a meltdown can occur when a child is in an environment they simply cannot handle. Over stimulating environments such as carnivals or loud malls are classic examples. It may be difficult, but necessary, to accept your child’s limitations and to avoid places where meltdowns happen while also seeking help such as ABA or other learning methods to help them prepare for those places in the future.

One strategy to avoid meltdowns is to set clear expectations beforehand and have a reward prepared for appropriate behavior. Do your best to make the reward as immediate as possible. Use small rewards for routine events (such as a grocery store run, or trip to your favorite coffee shop) and up the ante for more occasional events (such as a wedding or family reunion). Some parents caution not to use food as a reward.  A favorite toy or special privilege will do the trick without creating unhealthy eating habits.

Making your child feel helpful and more in control can make a significant difference as well. If your child often demands a certain treat at the store when you pass that aisle, try creating a list of groceries and make him or her in charge of helping you find your items and checking them off the list. This will help him or her to feel more in control while solidifying what is and isn’t an option at the store.

Careful preparation, setting expectations and rewards, and giving your child a sense of control will make public outings hopefully less daunting. Do your best to be patient, while remaining consistent, and you will, in time, master the art of preventing and handling meltdowns.


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