Dysregulation and the lollipop experiment

I recently shared an interesting blog post I came across on Facebook about the regulating effects of different types of foods. It has the deliciously provocative title of ‘Why you should reward your child for bad behaviour‘, but as we and the author know, that isn’t really what it’s about. This subject is something that we’ve been discussing with the girls’ occupational therapist recently: sweet, warm, and chewy foods are calming, crunchy foods are also good for providing proprioceptive feedback, which our children crave. So we’ve been conducting what we have dubbed ‘the lollipop experiment’ – providing lollies whenever we think they need help with getting into that ‘just right’ zone of regulation – not too excited, not too floppy. Ours tend to veer very easily into overexcited/angry mode, but we also have apples, breadsticks and carrot sticks on standby for times they need a bit more crunch to get their brains in gear. Here are the results of the experiment.


We started with a delivery of 100 Chupa Chups (thanks, Amazon). The thinking is to hand them out as soon as a child starts to become dysregulated. Like many others with neurodevelopmental issues, our children can go from 0 to 60 on the dysregulation scale in about half a second. We soon discovered that getting the lollipop unwrapped and inserted into the correct orifice while they are raging and rampaging can be interesting.

The theory says that it calms them down, but getting the lollipop unwrapped and inserted into the correct orifice while they are raging and rampaging can be interesting. Click To Tweet

The challenges begin

We also found one major flaw in this system on day one. What if the meltdown is about brushing their teeth? This was an issue with Charlotte. She didn’t want to do it and started to get angry. I whipped out a lollipop and said OK, have this, we’ll do your teeth in 10 minutes. It worked… temporarily. She was calm because there were no demands being made of her. When she finished it, we went into the bathroom and she was sugared up and wanted to play acrobatic games involving me catching her. I said we needed to brush her teeth. She responded by slamming the bathroom door on my arm. So the teeth were unbrushed and given an extra coating of sugar. Marvellous. We did get there in the end but the lollipop was not a helpful part of the process.

Day one: child 1, lollipop 0.

The mumfails continue

Error number two: we failed to stash any in the car. Big mistake. So many of the girls’ meltdowns happen there.

The first Saturday of the experiment was a deviation from our usual Saturday routine when I realised I didn’t have childcare booked for Charlotte and would need to leave her with my parents for a couple of hours while we took Joanna to therapy. The girls love their SEND activity club and go most Saturdays, but (as I remembered too late) I hadn’t been able to book a place this week. in Charlotte’s eyes, this was a major mumfail and despite my apologies, she was furious. Wouldn’t get dressed. Didn’t want to get in the car.

Dysregulation And The Lollipop ExperimentShe screamed constantly and took off her seatbeat several times on the way, which meant I had to get out and climb into the back with her halfway there. Joanna also started huffing and puffing because of the screaming, which only made Charlotte react more… and I didn’t have my trusty bag of tricks with me. GAAH. We had a bag of models she’d made with her snowflake construction kit, and her favourite new horse jigsaw, but they bashed together in the bag and broke and she Could. Not. Cope. Thankfully we reconstructed one together from scratch and by the end of her half-hour leg of the journey, she was sufficiently regulated to have a good transition into my parents’ house.

When we returned to pick her up, though, she was hiding in the bath with the shower curtains closed because my mum had asked her to wash her hands for lunch. I had to carry her to the car, whereupon she started the screaming and seatbelt-removing routine again. We drove to the village recreation ground, two minutes around the corner, released the children for a run around, and I ate half of Charlotte’s untouched packed lunch out of sheer stress.

A run around on the rec solved the problem far better than a lollipop would have done, and twenty minutes later we were all back in the car and heading for Starbucks for restorative caffeine and panininini (for me and Pete) and chewy marshmallow twizzle sticks for the girls (see what we did there)? We then drove to the cinema, I left the family there, parked the car for them and walked home. I enjoyed a peaceful couple of hours while they watched Early Man, then they came home for some more meltdowns.

Attempt number three

As you may have read, the Easter holidays have brought yet further meltdowns as Charlotte in particular is really struggling with being out of the term-time routine. Again, trying to calm her down with a lollipop really isn’t cutting it for her. She’s just not interested. She needs her mouth to be unoccupied, so that she can scream, shout abuse, and bite me!

So I think we’re going to give up on the lollipops as a meltdown prevention tool. Our two just don’t go in for the ‘slow build’ kind of meltdown that might be headed off by this approach, they’re ‘0 to 60 in half a second’ explosions.

What does work

The lollipops are good for helping with the cool-down after a meltdown, when they’re feeling shame and need help coming back to a restored relationship with the rest of the family. Giving a lollipop at that stage is symbolic of understanding and forgiveness while also being soothing because of the sugar and the sucking action. So there’s that.

Coming soon

In the next couple of weeks, I’ve lined up some fantastic occupational therapy resources to test and review, so look out for that. These are specialist products specifically designed for children with additional needs, including SEMH issues, so I’m expecting them to be more help than the lollipops! As ever, I’ll deliver my honest verdict so you can see what might work for your own family.

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Hannah Meadows is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.

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