Kelley Sovol on Taming Meltdowns

Kelley Sovol on Taming Meltdowns

Little kids can have big feelings, and they often seem to erupt during the worst possible times. While all parents and guardians experience it, not all are equipped with the right tools to manage it. Kelley Sovol, 4th grade teacher at University School of Milwaukee and parent to two young children, held a parent education session recently to do just that: Share tips and resources on the best way to manage an emotional meltdown.

Sovol has spent years studying brain science, researching parenting manuals, and practicing the methodology on her students and children. She began the session by encouraging attendees to remember a time when they felt emotionally unregulated, and to think about what a loved one might say to make them feel better (approaching with empathy and understanding), or worse (being dismissive, angry, or frustrated).

“It can sometimes feel counterintuitive to accept or welcome big feelings in the moment—because of course meltdowns are stressful and we want them to end as soon as possible,” said Sovol. “But understanding what is happening in our kids’ brains and bodies when they ‘melt down’ makes it clear that the most effective responses use phrases and tools that signal a sense of safety and security to their brains. These types of responses activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the body’s ‘brakes,’ and help move us through the dysregulation and return to a calm, regulated state of being.”

When a child becomes dysregulated, saying things like “I can understand why you feel upset,” or “You are a good kid having a hard time right now,” can help the child to feel safe and supported, thereby lessening the need for an outburst to escalate. Parents and guardians can also learn to watch for bodily signs that the ‘brakes’ are being activated, and then offer tools and gestures to complete the stress cycle and leave everyone feeling better.

Click here to watch a video of Sovol’s presentation.

A woman stands in front of a screen giving a presentation
A woman stands in front of a screen giving a presentation to a seated audience