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Meltdowns: Video Self-Modeling to the Rescue!

October 13, 2021

Does your child have a difficult time handling disappointment? Do seemingly simple requests turn into tantrums?

Sometimes children learn one way to handle situations like this (i.e., meltdown) and have a very difficult time learning a new and better way to respond. It’s likely not enjoyable for you or your child when these situations arise, particularly when you’re out in public. Luckily, you can teach your child a better way to respond. The solution is quite simple, and the only tools you need are some creativity and a smartphone or tablet. A technique known as video self-modeling, or VSM for short, is a proven tool to help your child learn better ways to respond to stressors. Carefully crafted video clips of your child responding to stress in a calm way can greatly increase his/her ability to do this in real life.

Meltdowns: Video Self-Modeling to the Rescue! https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/video-self-modeling-to-the-rescue/

Details about how to complete VSM to stop meltdowns are below. The steps are described in general terms so you can easily adapt them to meet your child’s specific situation. This article is the fourth in a series that focuses on ways to use VSM to help your child with difficulties he/she may face due to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Previous articles focused on social skills, eating behaviors, and self-help skills.

What is video self-modeling?

Video self-modeling (VSM) is a psychological technique that relies on videos to teach your child new behaviors and skills. VSM is unique because the videos are of your child, not another child or adult. By carefully creating the videos, they show your child succeeding at whatever new behavior you want to teach. All mistakes and old behaviors are removed by simple editing with free software, so your child is only seen performing successfully on the final video.

Humans learn very well by watching models that look similar to them. VSM relies on this principle by showing your child his or her own self on the video. This positive psychology technique has been studied since 1970 and has been shown to work across many different behaviors, including meltdowns.

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Below are a couple of examples of how to use video self-modeling to teach your child to respond calmly to stressors that typically lead to a meltdown. Keep in mind that VSM is NOT used to shame your child. Do NOT record or show your child actually having a meltdown. Rather, think of your child as an actor in a movie you are creating to show how to calmly respond to difficult situations. Choose the situations that normally cause a meltdown response in your child. Since this may be different for every child, you will need to adjust the examples below to meet your child’s specific needs.

How can I teach a calm response to my child using video self-modeling?

The below examples of how to use VSM to teach your child calm ways to respond to stressors are focused on the questions asked at the beginning of this article.

Handling Disappointment

If your child has a tantrum when he/she doesn’t get his/her way, combining VMS with a cognitive behavior therapy-type voiceover can help children who have verbal skills learn to respond more calmly.

To do this, follow these steps:

1. Tell your child he/she is going to star in a movie.

2. Explain the video will help him/her feel calm and in control when disappointed by something.

3. Using your smartphone or tablet, record yourself telling your child something he/she usually finds disappointing (such as, “No, you can’t color on the wall,” “It’s not the time for video games now,” “Stop eating the crayons,” etc.). Your child should not be in the room when you record this.

4. Now tell your child you want to record him/her calmly walking away from you and going to do some acceptable task like coloring on paper, reading a book, eating fruit, etc. If he/she is verbal, you can ask the child to say something like, “Okay, Mom, if you say so.” You can also record just the child’s voice saying something like, “Boy I feel mad when Mom tells me to not color on the wall, but I guess she’s right, I should just sit down and color on paper instead. I’ll take a few deep breaths and slowly walk over to the table.”

5. Use free software such as iMovie or Kinemaster to complete the editing. Edit the video to show you Steps 3 and 4 in order. Place the voiceover on the video clip of the child calmly doing the coloring or another acceptable task you decided to show.

6. If there are several stressors that cause a meltdown for your child, you can make a few videos or perhaps show several scenarios in the same video. Start with one, though, to see if it works.

7. Add a picture of your child looking happy at the start and end of the video.

8. At the beginning of the video, add a voiceover in your own voice saying something like, “This is Tom calmly responding when he feels disappointed.”

9. At the end of the video, add another voiceover such as, “Terrific job calmly responding, Tom!”

10. The final video should be about 30 to 60 seconds in length. Show the video to your child every 1-2 days and explain what a great job he/she is doing every time he/she calmly responds to disappointment.

11. Once your child is consistently responding calmly to disappointment, you can start showing the video less often (1-2 times per week for 2 weeks) or just stop showing it altogether. Your child may become bored with watching the same video repeatedly, so if he/she still needs instruction but is refusing to watch the same video, make a new video.

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Managing Autism Meltdowns, Tantrums and Aggression

Responding to Simple Instructions

Simple instructions like, “It’s time for bed now” or “You need to get dressed for school” can result in a tantrum for some children. If this happens with your child, video self-modeling can help! Simply follow the steps below, adapting where needed to fit your child’s specific needs.

1. Tell your child he/she will be the star of a movie.

2. Let him/her know that the video will help him/her have a better day by following directions.

3. Record your voice giving an instruction, such as “It’s time to go” or “Stand up, Paul.” Record this using a smartphone or tablet.

4. Record your child doing exactly what you asked him/her to do in Step 3. If necessary, say to your child, “I want you to do what I do” but don’t record that instruction. Then stand up yourself and record your child standing up. In this way, you’re prompting your child to do what you want to show on the video by modeling it yourself.

5. Edit the video to show your child sitting calmly and place the voiceover of your voice from Step 3 on top of the video clip. You can use free editing software such as iMovie or Kinemaster for this step.

6. Add a smiling picture of your child to the beginning and end of your video.

7. Add another voiceover to the start of the video, such as, “Here’s Ali following directions.”

8. Say something like, “Great job following directions, Ali!” at the end of the video.

9. Show the edited video to your child every 1-2 days and praise him/her every time simple directions are followed.

10. Once your child is consistently following directions, you can show the video less often or stop showing it altogether.

Video self-modeling is effective across many different behaviors. The next article in this series will focus on using video self-modeling to help your child with anxiety. Until then, happy recording!

This article was featured in Issue 78 – Back to School Success

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