5 Tips for Handling a Meltdown in Public

Whose kid is screaming? That’s not MY kid, right!?!? All parents have experienced less-than-ideal behavior in public. Its hard to know how to respond to a meltdown in private and then when a meltdown happens in public, there are more variables that are out of control. Its embarrassing. People stare! People judge! It may be crowded and loud. Sometimes, a child with special needs having a meltdown in public can be even worse. Some children with special needs may respond in an exaggerated manner which may be very loud and possibly even aggressive. Some children may seem ‘too old to act like that.’

  1. Stay Calm

Many children can read other’s moods and stress levels, even if they can’t communicate that. It is critical that the child’s behavior doesn’t then escalate the behavior of the adult, which could be disastrous for everyone. Get down on the child’s level and communicate. Use simple directions to the child because some children may struggle to communicate when their behavior is escalated.

  1. Be Patient

When a meltdown occurs, we want it to end as quickly as possible. No one wants this to be happening. Sometimes, we have to help the child to work through the situation so that they can learn from it. Sometimes, we have to give the child time to calm down before we can move on. Take a deep breath and know the meltdown won’t last forever.

  1. Ignore Others

Simply put, it’s no one else’s business.  You don’t want to be dealing with the meltdown any more than they want to be in the proximity of the meltdown. Most importantly, having a meltdown isn’t fun for the child. It’s not fun for anyone. People are rude and it stinks but sometimes we just have to have thick skin to get through the situation and continue with awareness opportunities at other times.

  1. Don’t Take It Personally

Most of the time, children with special needs are not having a meltdown just to spite you or just to make you angry or to embarrass you. All children learn in different ways. All children tolerate things in different ways. All children have to learn how to respond to non-preferred stimuli/circumstances in different ways.

  1. Problem Solve for Next Time

Not every meltdown is preventable but there are things we can learn from meltdowns so that we can help to set up children for success. Identify things that may trigger problems for children. Either avoid those triggers or practice responding to those triggers. Pre-teach and provide expectations prior to experiences which may have caused problems in the past. When appropriate, collaborate with others to help the child be successful.

What are your tips for responding to meltdowns in public?


Got-Autism Guest Blogger Lisa Houseworth, JD, BCBA has worked with children with special needs using the principles of ABA and Verbal Behavior since 2001. In 2005, Lisa graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education, and then continued her education by graduating from the University of Dayton Law School in May, 2010. She completed coursework to earn her Board Certification in Behavior Analysis from University of North Texas and her clinical supervision from Step By Step Academy (Columbus, OH), Carbone Clinic (Valley Cottage, NY) and through Cherish Twigg, BCBA. Lisa has had experience as the director of center-based programs in Dayton, OH and Wapakoneta, OH, school consulting, staff training and also overseeing in-home programs. She has worked with individuals ranging in age from 2 years old through young adults. Lisa currently works part-time for Key Behavior Services in Dayton, OH. In her spare time, she enjoys blogging, travelling and couponing.