By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/LEPISODE 62

I often preach about spending time after the meltdown to help your child “fill in the blanks” for some things you may have to do during a meltdown (like leave the room, hold a boundary). In this episode, I give you a behind the scenes listen to how that actually plays out in ur house and my play-by-play reflection and reasoning for everything I said.

Speaker 1 (00:00):

Yeah, that’s your worry bug. And you can choose to feed your worry bug. I am not going to help feed your worry bug. Instead, I want to help you and your body feel more comfortable without feeding the worry bug. And that means that sometimes mommy won’t help you do things. And that means sometimes you’re going to feel sad and mad that I won’t help you. But it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It means I’m helping you in other ways. I’m helping your brain and body.

Speaker 2 (00:31):

Welcome to the Sensory Wise Solutions podcast for parents where parents can get real actionable strategies to support kids with sensory processing disorders. I’m Laura OT and mom to Liliana, a sensory-sensitive kid who inherited my anxiety and my love for all things Disney. Consider me your new OT mom. Bestie. I know my stuff, but I also know what it’s really like in the trenches of parenting a child with sensory processing disorder.

Speaker 3 (01:00):

Okay, mom, enough about me. Let’s start the podcast.

Speaker 2 (01:07):

Hello Podcast people. This is technically an unscripted episode, but I have some ideas in mind of what I want to talk about and I’m kind of trying to get over my need for things to be perfect and planned so specifically because that’s what ends up getting me stuck in analysis paralysis and is where I get stuck when I need to when I have so many things I want to say but try to do it in a certain structure. So I have been trying to do a lot more unscripted yet still valuable podcast episodes. If you’ve listened to my podcast for a while, you know that I like to give a lot of information-packed episodes, which in order for me to keep in a timely manner and for me not ramble, I do need to script it. The problem is then I end up procrastinating because I have to write all of those thoughts down and then I get behind in my podcast schedule.

So anyway, so here I am. That was a very long intro Today, this topic came up because just a couple of days ago I shared audio of Liliana and I repairing, I wouldn’t say really repairing so much in the sense that I had to when I think of repairing after a meltdown, I think of I yelled at her or if there was something that happened. It was not so much a repair, as much of a reflection after a meltdown that I wanted to help her understand why I did and said the things I did. So let me just set the scene for you before I play the audio. So Liliana was, she had removed her crash pad, which is basically a bunch of pillows in this zip-up cover.

It’s kind of lumpy because there are a bunch of pillows in it. So she removed that crash pad, moved it to a different room, and then she brought her foam, one of those fold-out foam kid’s couches, and also one that we got from Target. And she was playing with it. She was making a fort and all of that, which was great. And then it was time for her to clean up and I said, it’s time for you to clean up and then we can go downstairs for a snack. She knows that I expect her to clean up by herself, especially when she chose to do this big sort of setup plaything. It was not something I set up for her or something she decided to do. So I was like, L, please clean up. And so she did, and she was putting it back in her room where they usually go.

And of course, because the crash pad has tons of different pillows layered inside of it, it’s not always going to sit and lay as flat as it originally was. Things are going to shift and move around, and then when you put a foam couch on top of it, it’s not going to sit flush and level. So that’s when she started panicking. And if you don’t know her, she does have sensory processing disorder, but she also has anxiety, I’m seeing little hints of O C D, but that is up for debate. She has not been officially diagnosed or anything like that. But anyway, she is very, very, very, very particular about things being just right and being in the perfect place and gets really, really stuck on that. Okay, so I’m going to come back. Let’s play audio. PS it’s not the crispest sound because I just recorded it on my phone and it was on her bed. So it’s kind of a little muffled, but here you go. And then I’ll come back after the audio.

Speaker 1 (04:52):

The reason why I don’t do things for you when you say, can you fix this or can you turn the blanket this way? Or can you make it look like that? Right? Do you think the reason why mommy doesn’t do that is why?

Speaker 4 (05:07):

It’s because it’s too much things for you.

Speaker 1 (05:15):

Sometimes I am busy, but a lot of the time mommy could help you. The reason why I don’t is that I know that some of those things is not you. It’s the worry bug. Like your worry bug really likes when things are just perfect.

Speaker 4 (05:34):

The tag on

Speaker 1 (05:34):

Bottom, the tag on the bottom, sometimes I can help you with it, but a lot of times like putting things back exactly where they belong in the right way, at the way it looks and turned this way and turned that way. Like

Speaker 4 (05:48):

My water

Speaker 1 (05:49):

Bottle, that’s your worry bug. And you can choose to feed your worry bug. I am not going to help feed your worry bug. Instead, I want to help you and your body feel more comfortable without feeding the worry bug. And that means that sometimes mommy won’t help you do things. And that means sometimes you’re going to feel sad and mad that I won’t help you, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It means I’m helping you in other ways. I’m helping your brain and body. So right now, you are so frustrated. You were trying really, really hard to get your Elsa couch to fit just right on top of the pillow, right? And it wasn’t working when

Speaker 4 (06:31):

I moved it to the side and

Speaker 1 (06:33):

It worked. You got it to work. So what mommy was trying to tell you before you got upset, I wanted you to come to hug me because first I wanted to get your body in control, not calm. Remember, you’re allowed to be mad. Yeah, I wasn’t trying to calm your body. I was trying to keep your body safe. So I wanted you to sit on my lap. And you know what I was going to tell you what I was going to say? You have two choices. You can step away from the couch and the pillow and come back to it after your body is more in control. Because when your body’s more in control, then you can do things like easier. So that was one choice. The other choice was going to be flexible, that it’s not going to be perfect. And then I was going to help you feel sad over it, but you can be sad with me that it’s not perfect.

But one of the options was not mommy trying to make it fit perfectly for you. That would not be me helping you. That would be me helping your worry bug get bigger. Do you understand that? Yeah. And so also when mommy left the room, I could tell your body needed space. And also your screams were just a little too loud for my ears. So I went, and then when I heard you were a little quieter, then now I’m back here and you were ready for deep breaths and you were ready to talk. So do you understand why I didn’t help you with the couch? Yeah. Yeah. It’s because mommy is trying to help not feed your worry bug, right? So now you have the couch in the right place.

Speaker 4 (08:09):

I’m trying to

Speaker 1 (08:10):

Put my mouth, okay, now you have the couch in the right place. Okay? If the couch was not in the right place, mommy would help you feel not better about it. But mommy would sit here with you until you felt like you were ready to move on. And that might take a long time. Some days, okay? My job is to keep you safe and my job is to help your brain and body grow. And my job is to not feed the worry bug because one day I hope your worry bug is not so big. Okay? Do you understand that? Yeah. Do you have any questions?

Speaker 4 (08:49):


Speaker 1 (08:50):

Okay. I love you.

Speaker 4 (08:52):

I love you.

Speaker 2 (08:57):

All right. So let’s fill in the blanks a little bit. The first thing that I want to go over and talk about was how I approached this before she escalated. So I know my daughter’s cues very well. I can tell by the pitch of her voice the things she starts saying, the things that the way she starts breathing. I think the breathing thing is new because I really do think she’s actually trying to take deep breaths, but I can hear it in a panicked way. So I heard that happening and I wasn’t even in the room, but I heard it. I was thinking in my head, it’s happening. It’s happening. And again, I know one of her main triggers is this. So I was already kind of ready for action, so to speak. So I heard those cues. I gathered myself to close my eyes, hand on my heart, and took a couple of deep breaths to be like, okay, she needs you right now, go in.

So I went into her room and I said, I didn’t even say, do you need help? Because I already knew what was going on. Again, I know my daughter very well. I knew this trigger. And I said, Hey, why don’t you come over here and sit with me on the bed right now? I really just wanted her to step away from the thing that was frustrating her. Cause I saw her at this point trying to push really hard on the pillows, flatten it out, very frustrated. And so I tried to get her to sit on my lap because that’s one of her favorite ways to co-regulate her chest to my chest, me hugging her and just her feeling me breathe. So I really wanted to try to get ahead of the full meltdown. So I tried to get her to pause and come sit with me.

And that’s when I was going to tell her those two choices that you hear me say in the audio. So I mean, there’s not really much I need to translate because I’m very transparent with her. So everything I said to her, I didn’t leave anything out. I just used it in kid-friendly terms. But really I was trying to show her, I was going into it saying I needed to take this time as a teaching opportunity. Could I have tried my very best to make the pillow fit perfectly and the couch fit perfectly? Yes. I don’t even know if it would’ve worked because again, it was just a bunch of pillows mashed up together. I don’t think I could ever have put it exactly how she wanted, but sure I could have helped at that time, in that moment, on that day, I was like, this is going to be a bang for your buck moment.

As a parent, I was regulated. I was ready to take it on. So knowing that I was saying, I want to use this as a moment to teach her that she can walk away from something that has no time crunch, that has real, no urgency, and then she could come back later and try it when she’s a little bit less emotional. So that was one option. And then the other one was, yeah, I wanted to see if she could just get over it and just be like, it’s fine the way that it is. So those were the two options I was going to tell her. If she had been able to come to hug me and breathe with me, I would’ve helped her through that and helped her be upset, I wasn’t expecting that to solve things. In fact, I was ready for her to be upset about it. However, she did not take me up on that offer, and she quickly started escalating.

I told her, I said, okay, I see you’re not ready. I’m going to step out for a little bit and then I’ll be back to check on you. So I went downstairs and I heard her hitting the pillows again. I knew she was safe, but she was hitting the pillows, screaming my husband does not do as well as I do, and letting some of the meltdowns play out. And he and I, let me rewind. I am trying to let my husband figure out parenting tactics that work for him and that don’t work for him without me just telling him. So I made sure he knew what I was doing, and I went downstairs. I said, she’s having a little moment right now because of the couch. I said I’m just letting her have some space. So I was kind of queuing him. He still could not really handle hearing her scream so loud.

So he wanted to go and help her and talk through it. So he went up and of course, as soon as she saw him, she started freaking out even more. He tends to be somewhat of a trigger for her. Cause sometimes she just feels like he’s there to stop her from having her feelings, even though he’s come a long way from that. And he’s not like that. She tends to freak out even more when she sees him. So of course he went up there and I could have stopped him, but I said, you know what? I’m just going to, I’m letting him do his thing, going to let him see what happens. So I was trying to regulate downstairs while I had this time knowing that this might be a tag team kind of meltdown if you know what I mean. And then he goes upstairs, I hear her escalate lots of screams, lots of nos, lots of get out of here.

I don’t want to see you. Probably a few minutes of that. And then he left and she was quieter and I asked him what happened. He said nothing was solved, but she seems to be crying quieter now so not quite as full meltdown. And I was like, okay, that’s fine. So he came down and was back to doing what he was doing. And then I heard her slowly start to escalate again. And so this was at the point where I’m like, okay, it’s time for me to check back in. So I went into her room and I saw her still upset, crying, and I said, are you ready for that hug now? And she said, yeah, in a very mad way, yes, okay. And she stomped over to me on the bed while I was hugging her. She was still screaming really loudly. And I said, I really want to keep hugging.

You can cry. Can you cry into my chest or can you cry into this pillow without screaming? So wasn’t trying to get her to stop crying. And then eventually, after probably a couple minutes of just letting her sob and me her back, I’m not saying one word to her, just truly letting her sob. Then I said, what does your body need right now? And she said I don’t want to be calm. And this is a theme that has come up with us before when she used to be resistant to trying deep breaths where there was a miscommunication. And she thought every time I was telling her to take a deep breath, it meant that she needed to be calm, meaning to not be mad or to just relax or get over it, which we all hate. So she used to do this when she was little and say, I don’t want to be calm.

I want to be mad. And I used to say, okay, you’re right. You can totally be mad. Let’s just be safe. So when she said this at this moment, I said, what does your body need? And she says, I don’t want to be calm. I said, does feeling mad feel good to you? And she said, yes. And I said, okay. I totally get that. And you know what? I do get that. I do get that. There are times when I’m just like, I want to cry it out, guys. I want to put on a sad song and just cry and feel the feels. I don’t want anyone to justify me out of my feelings. I had a crappy day and I want to cry about it, or I want to be mad about it. I get it. We just don’t want that to take too long and take up so much time of our day.

And we also don’t want to be so mad that our body is unsafe and or so mad that our body is out of control and we’re now doing things with our body that is not in our control. So that’s what I differentiated for her. And so I said, okay, you don’t want to be calm. You want to stay mad. That’s fine. Can I please help you keep your body just in control so you can control your body better? And she was like, yes. Again, she knows what that means because we’ve talked about it at neutral times. This is not the first time I have mentioned the word in control of your body and safe body. So all of that work happened outside of this. I forgot to mention, if you’re new, here she is five and a half. If anyone’s wondering, she’ll be six in July.

So once I acknowledge you can be mad, I just want to help you be in control. And she said, yes. And I said, okay, what does your body need to be in control? How can I help your body get in control? And she said, I want to do finger breathing. And so I’ll actually put a link to a reel in the show notes if you want to see what that looks like. She basically traces up and down my fingers, counts them, and then takes really slow inhales and exhales. And she asked for that. And so we made a deal. I said I will do it twice and then you do it twice on her own hand because I am trying to get her to realize she can do this on her own hand whenever she needs to if I’m not there. So I got her to breathe.

We did it a few times. Her body fully came down from the meltdown, and that’s when the audio started and I said, can I tell you something? I want to tell you why mommy did not help you with your pillow and your couch cushion. And that’s where the audio begins that you just heard. So now with that out of the way, I want to address a few things. After people heard the audio, one of them was like, how did you get your daughter to a point where she can tolerate you talking about feelings? Because I know there are some of you who have kids who shut down completely when they talk about feelings. I don’t know when it started just because I’ve always been who I am and have been in this sort of space. And I’m a talker. I talk about my feelings and I’ve always been a parent coach who advocates for talking about feelings.

So I feel like I’ve been doing it for a long time so she’s just used to me talking about it for a long time. And I think the other part is really knowing your child’s best and worst times of days to talk about it. So maybe right after the meltdown is not an option. Maybe being too far away from it is also not an option, and you might need to find a window for that. Again, this is something that is consistent for us. It’s not something new for us. She just knows this is part of the routine of when she has these really big meltdowns that we talk about it. And I really want her to understand why I do everything that I do or don’t do everything that I do. So that’s just a part of our routine. And if you find your child can’t tolerate these long discussions, it doesn’t have to be this long.

Also, I feel like if she were saying, I don’t want to talk about it, I feel comfortable doing something like, okay, that’s fine. You don’t have to say anything back, but I really need to tell you this one thing. You don’t even have to look at me. Right? You might even do this at a time when you’re playing or coloring or there’s no eye contact. So it’s not so intimate if that makes ’em uncomfortable or too intense if you’re like face-to-face. So maybe if you’re swinging them or if they’re in the car and you’re driving, that’s a good place. They can’t really go anywhere. But I might approach it that way where I’m saying, you don’t have to say anything, but it’s very important that mommy tells you this one thing and then starts from there. The other thing I want to address that other people asked about was the worry bug- what is the worry bug and how did I start this language?

I did not come up with this language. There is a book from an author called Andy Green, and it’s called Don’t Feed the Worry Bug. I will put a link to that in the show notes as well. And I taught her the concept of the worry bug, I think at three and a half. And it took us a few times of talking it over and over again for it to become integrated into her language and for her to truly understand what it was. If you have a very concrete thinker, it might not be the best metaphor for you guys to use, but for us, it worked and it stuck around and it’s really allowed us to have language around what happens. The premise is there is this worry bug that people might have, and it starts out really small, and it’s just this annoying little pesky little thing that buzzes around.

And the more that you think about the worry or doing something that the worry bug makes you do, the bigger the worry bug gets. You’re feeding it, that’s what it eats. And the worry bug gets bigger and bigger and bigger the more that you think about a worry or the more that you do something to feed the worry. So what I’m talking about is if your worry bug says that if your letter A is not perfect, then you have to keep doing it over and over again. And so you cry and you panic and you keep erasing the A over and over and over again until it looks just right. That would be feeding the worry bug because you basically reinforce your anxiety, right? Or if you are afraid of an adult, if you’re afraid of elevators and you never take the elevator, you are feeding the worry bug because you avoided something and then you feel better by avoiding it.

So it’s the whole concept of enabling certain anxieties or even themes about O C D I could see this fitting. And so when I taught her the worry bug, I taught her also that I have a worry bug. I said, sometimes mommy has a worry bug about time, and I worry about not being on time places and then it makes mommy out of control of my body and I get kind of cranky. That’s the worry bug, and I need to take a deep breath so I don’t feed the worry bug. So that’s the language, a very quick crash course on the worry bug, and it works for us. Again, check out the book. It has a really great way to introduce it to your child. There’s also a YouTube video that reads the book, which is great. So the way that I differentiate that you also heard me talk about in the audio is I say, mommy is not going to feed your worry bug y.

If you choose to feed the worry bug, that is your choice. I will not participate in that. And this is a strategy that I have consulted with my own therapist background. Again, I see a therapist virtually every week for my anxiety, but she used to be Liliana’s therapist when Liliana had play therapy. So she specializes in children and anxiety but I recruited her to be my own personal therapist, but she has a background of Liliana and she understands kids. So sometimes I talk to her about things that are going on with Liliana. Sometimes it’s about just me. A lot of times there’s definitely overlap. But anyway, I consulted with her about how to handle these things when Liliana stresses out about her clothes, colors matching, and she has to change a million times, or if a drawer is open and she asks me to close it, or if she can’t make a choice between something and she wants me to make the choice.

All of those things are themes of her anxiety where they really stress her out and she gets stuck. And so she seeks me to help reassure her worried brain by engaging in some of those things. And I was telling my therapist, I don’t know what to do here. I want to accommodate her. I want her to feel regulated. But there are times when I can see that if I do that every time, she’s never going to grow. So she helped me come up with a plan that as long as I am not the person who engages in that kind of ritual or fixing of stuff then Liliana can learn to deal with her own anxiety or be responsible for it in her own way. So I’m kind of putting my hands in the air, hands off. If you choose to fix the bedsheet or if you choose to stay in your room and adjust this couch cushion over the pillows for 30 minutes until it feels right, that’s your thing.

I will not be helping you there. So this brings up a lot of meltdowns for us at home. And like I said, I have to be strategic about when I do it. Would I have done this on a day before school? No, absolutely not. This is why at this moment I knew I’d got the time today. It’s a weekend. We need to practice this skill because this kind of theme happens a lot on the weekday. And so these were the times when I can be intentional about not feeding her worry bug. But throughout the week, I use this language all the time. We will be in the bathroom and she’s like brushing her hair and she’ll be like, mom, can you push that drawer in? I was like, oh, I think that’s the worry bug talking. I will not be pushing that drawer in for the worry bug.

And then she’ll go and do it herself. And I’ll say, okay, that’s fine. That was her little worry showing herself feeding the worry bug, right? Sometimes when we are going to Disneyland, right? This is a very good example, and I’ll say, Hey I don’t have a worry bug. I don’t have room for the worry bug to come with us to Disneyland today. I only have room for you. So what? Let’s talk about it now. What are some things that your worry bug makes you think about? And she goes, where we sit on the trimm, which color elephant? I get to sit on Dumbo getting to collect the confetti at the end of the Disney Junior dance party. Very specific things. She knows her triggers so well, which is also a pro for us. And so I said, okay, those are things I was like, let’s, let’s just get the worry bug out of your head right now.

Now that you’ve said it, it’s already gone. And I’ll have her take her hand to her forehead and pretend like she’s plucking the worry bug and throwing it away out the window. And she thinks that’s hilarious. And I told her, I will not be feeding the worry bug today. Do you choose to feed the worry bug today? And she’s like, I was like, great. Let’s leave him at home. Or let’s not bring him today. And sometimes just calling out those triggers helps a lot. And sometimes when it doesn’t and she still has a meltdown, that’s fine. And I still deal with the meltdown. This is something that we just build on week after week after week, and this is not a conversation that we’re done having. And the last thing I want to reflect on or address or talk about was when you heard me in the audio say I want to help you feel sad and be sad with me.

What I meant by that was I was telling her, I know that walking away from something that doesn’t feel perfect to you is really hard for you. So I was validating that for her. I know that that’s hard, and I am not here to say, I want to make you feel better about it or forget about it, or move on from it. I wanted to show her that I know that’s hard for you and it’s going to make you feel sad, or it’s going to make you feel mad, or it’s going to make you feel frustrated, and I want to be here for you through all of those emotions, and I will be here for you for that. So I was telling her I wanted you to do this challenge and I was going to help you get through the emotions of it.

That is really what being a conscious parent or using gentle parenting principles is. You set a boundary. You have to have your child transition away from something. They have to hear the word no, and we’re not going to expect them to just go with the flow. Then we just have to say, okay, I’m going through with this boundary. I’m saying no to this one thing, or We have to do this one thing, and I know you’re going to be upset about it, and I’m going to be here with you when you’re upset about it. That is what that whole thing was. All right, so I hope this was helpful for you. This episode really focused on sort of after the meltdown part, but if you’ve heard me talk about meltdowns before, you know that I separate meltdowns into four phases. There’s before the meltdown, after, and between, you actually heard me talk a little bit about before the meltdown when I tried to intervene there when I asked her to sit with me on the bed.

But before the meltdown really depends on you understanding your child’s triggers and knowing what you can do to avoid a meltdown. During the meltdown, you heard me kind of go downstairs and say I was going to check on her. So it wasn’t necessarily that I was ignoring her. I tried to stay with her. My husband kind of was there a little bit for her, and then I came back in at the end of her meltdown to help her really, really de-escalate. And then we transitioned into after the meltdown, which was that whole talk between the meltdown is really what we do when the day-to-day life when we’re doing regulation strategies, practicing, practicing breathing at neutral times, doing some heavy work and all of that. So if you want to hear more about how I think about meltdowns and how I handle even the aggressive ones and what to do for those really, really, really intense aggressive ones, then you might want to check out my meltdowns workshop. And you can find that at workshop. I will also put a link to that in the show notes, but I hope that hearing this example was helpful for you and I will be back next week.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider rating it and leaving a review, which helps other parents find me as well, and want to learn more from me. I share tons more over on Instagram at the OT Butterfly. See you next time.

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Behind the scenes: After a "worry-bug" meltdown
As an Occupational Therapist, I get asked all the time what my thoughts are on ABA, and if I think ABA is harmful. Keep reading to learn more about an OT’s perspective on ABA therapy, some alternatives to ABA therapy, and how to ensure your Autistic child can thrive even if they are in ABA...

As an Occupational Therapist, I get asked all the time what my thoughts are on ABA, and if I think ABA is harmful. Keep reading to learn more about an OT’s perspective on ABA therapy, some alternatives to ABA therapy, and how to ensure your Autistic child can thrive even if they are in ABA therapy. ABA (Applied behavioral analysis) therapy is a type of intervention where people are trained in behavioral analysis and use that lens to manipulate (either increase a certain behavior or reduce another behavior) behaviors in children, it’s most often used and associated with Autistic children. I’ll be talking about my thoughts on ABA as an intervention for Autistic children, and discuss the practices that have made ABA seem harmful to the Autistic community. As an Occupational Therapist, I get asked all the time what my thoughts are on ABA, and if I think ABA is harmful. Keep reading to learn more about an OT’s perspective on ABA therapy, some alternatives to ABA therapy, and how to ensure your Autistic child can thrive even if they are in ABA therapy. ABA (Applied behavioral analysis) therapy is a type of intervention where people are trained in behavioral analysis and use that lens to manipulate (either increase a certain behavior or reduce another behavior) behaviors in children, it’s most often used and associated with Autistic children. I’ll be talking about my thoughts on ABA as an intervention for Autistic children, and discuss the practices that have made ABA seem harmful to the Autistic community.




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Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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