Tantrums and Meltdowns ... Do you know how they are different?

There are some major differences between a child throwing a tantrum and a child having a meltdown.

Did you know there was a difference?


If you didn't, you're not alone. So many parents struggle to know the difference and how to handle each scenario. The main difference between tantrums and meltdowns is that tantrums have a purpose and meltdowns are the result of sensory overload.


A TANTRUM will usually stop when the child gets what s/he wants, changes his/her tactics, or when we respond differently to how we usually respond. They are in control of their actions and bodies to get a desired result. For children having a tantrum a clear boundary needs to be held. During a tantrum and any emotional outburst, it is always best to stay calm (or pretend to be calm), wink wink. Speak in short sentences, slowly and in a softer non-threatening tone of voice. Acknowledge the emotion. (For example: It's upsetting when you can't have another cookie, isn't it? I'll be right here when you need me) Be available for them if they need comfort, but don't give in to their demand (ie: another cookie) or whatever it is they are having a tantrum about. If you were to give in and give them another cookie, the tantrum would stop immediately. However, that then teaches that to get what they want, they have to through a tantrum. If sometimes you give in and sometimes you don't, it sends mixed messages. Since they get what they want some of the time, in a child's brain that is still a successful strategy to get what they want and tantrums will continue. The key is setting a clear boundary and sticking to it. Boundaries will always be tested at least once so keep with it. If you are tested more than 3 times then the boundary wasn't clear enough and you'll have to start again.


The MELTDOWN. A child having a meltdown on the other hand is completely overwhelmed and has lost control mentally and physically. The meltdown will not stop until their body is regulated. They need their caregivers to maintain a very calm and compassionate state and just hold space for the child to move through the emotions and be there for them. If you gave into what they wanted the meltdown would not stop as they are not looking for attention or to get what they want. It is a physical reaction when they have lost control of their body and emotions. This can be challenging for many parents. It is so difficult to watch your child struggle. I know personally how heart breaking it can be to watch a meltdown and just as hard to just hold space for them like a mountain weathering the storm. If meltdowns happen often with your child, it is important to try and get to the root cause. What was the trigger? What circumstances were happening right before the meltdown? Once you find the pattern it will be easier to prevent the meltdown from happening by removing the trigger. (example: Getting dressed there is often a meltdown. After a few times you recognize the trigger is the scratchy tag in some shirts. Now you can remove scratchy tags and show them to avoid future meltdowns.) It can be emotionally taxing on parents too when there is a child who has a lot of meltdowns. I have a lot of tools to help you manage this so you and your child are both supported. Connect with me if this resonates with you and you are struggling to handle the stress of having a child who is challenging.


Below is a chart to help you see the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown. Once you can figure out what is actually happening, you can respond accordingly.



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