Helping Your Child Communicate When They Are In A Heightened Sense Of Emotion.

We've all been there. Whether you call it a meltdown, tantrum, lost the plot, or your own name - as parents we've all experienced that moment when your child is extremely upset, angry or frustrated and are experiencing heightened emotions. 

I've been running this business a long time and one thing that I am told time and again by parents and carers is that when someone becomes very worked up, spoken language is the first thing to go. I've seen the same in my own children. They are simply not able to find the words. 

This lack of being able to communicate then leads to further frustration. 

So what do they need?

In this instance a child needs an augmentative and alternative form of communication (AAC) - a way of communicating other than speech. One that can easily be accessed and processed. Since pictures are significantly easier to process than spoken words, they make an excellent alternative.

Here are some ways you can use visuals to help someone communicate when they are in a heightened sense of emotion. 

Stay Calm

Firstly, I know this can feel really hard but it is so, so important. Responding to a child's meltdown with anger or frustration will never defuse the situation. Calm breeds calm, so take a deep breath and dig deep so that you don't end up worked up as well. That way you can be ready to support your child both through their heightened emotions, and the exhaustion they will feel afterwards.

Use Minimal Language

When they are really worked up, your child may find it difficult to process verbal information or instructions. Stop using lots of words at that moment - it's too much. Just be there and if you do need to communicate use as few words as possible, and consider other communication methods such as visual and physical prompts. 


Offer an alternative form of communication.

Give your child a voice. Give them a way of communicating their wants and needs using pictures - these are much easier to process than spoken words. They can pass them to you without trying to have to find the words. 

There's an 'I want' page for this in our Communication Book, or you can just have the visuals available and they can hand you the one they need. 


Offer them a way to communicate their feelings.

Offer them a way to communicate their feelings with an emotions set of visuals. We have these available on a chart, on a keyring or just on their own. Whichever you use, having these available when your child is worked up gives them a voice - a way of telling you what they are feeling. It also helps them process their emotions.

You can see the Feelings Chart here.


Encourage them to communicate what would help them calm.

I have created a Calming Chart for this very purpose. It shows a few different strategies that may help your child become calm if they need to. The idea is that, with practice, they are able to recognise that they are feeling angry or frustrated and can communicate to you which calming strategy they need by passing you the relevant visual or moving it to the top of the chart. I'm not suggesting this will be a quick fix - it will take time and practice but I have honestly seen some amazing progress as children have gradually been able to communicate their own needs. Find it here.
 As great as these ideas are, they are only going to work if you have visuals available. If your child depends on pictures to communicate, please please don't file them away. They are going to need them to show you how you can help them when they are the most frightened and upset.

If you think any of these ideas would work for you and you'd like to discuss them further please get in touch and chat away. I'd love to help you find the right resource for you and your child.

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