As parents or caregivers, we often hear other parents lamenting over difficult behaviours such as tantrums and meltdowns.
While some may use the two terms interchangeably, do you know there are significant differences between the two?
In this article, we will explore the differences between tantrums and meltdowns, and provide some practical handles on handling both.
Tantrums are typically seen in younger children, usually between the ages of two and four, though this may extend to kids in older age groups. They are emotional outbursts characterised by frustration, anger, or a desire for something they cannot have.
Tantrums often occur when a child’s needs or wants are not met, leading to an outburst of negative emotions. Typical behaviours include crying, screaming, stomping feet, hitting objects or people, and falling to the floor. Children may also use pleading or bargaining to get what they want. They usually end once they get what they want, or when they realise there is no benefit to continuing. However, sometimes, tantrums can spiral into a meltdown.
Meltdowns are not manipulative, and are usually not within the child’s control.
A meltdown is an intense reaction to feelings of overwhelm, anxiety or over-stimulation, and usually occurs when the demands placed on a child exceeds their ability to cope in the moment. Meltdowns are not manipulative, and are usually not within the child’s control. They are also more commonly associated with children on the autism spectrum or those with sensory processing difficulties.
During a meltdown, a child may become agitated, exhibit aggressive behaviours, become non-responsive (like a computer that has shut down) and have difficulty processing language or instructions.
1. Stay calm
During a tantrum, it’s essential for adults to remain calm. Reacting emotionally may escalate the situation. Take deep breaths, and remember that tantrums are a normal part of child development.
2. Offer choices
Whenever possible, provide children with appropriate choices to meet their needs. This can help them feel more in control, and nip tantrums resulting from frustration or a feeling of powerlessness.
3. Validate their feelings
Acknowledge their emotions and let them know it’s okay to feel upset. Use phrases like, “I see you’re upset because you can’t continue playing with the toy right now, but it’s almost time to leave.”
Do not give in to tantrums, as this can reinforce the behaviour. Instead, teach your child to make their requests calmly.
4. Set clear boundaries
Establish consistent rules and boundaries. Children need to understand what is expected of them, which can reduce the likelihood of tantrums caused by confusion or uncertainty. Do not give in to tantrums, as this can reinforce the behaviour. Instead, teach your child to make their requests calmly.
5. Use distraction
Offer an alternative activity or toy to redirect their attention and diffuse the tantrum. Distracting them with something they enjoy can help shift their focus away from the initial trigger.
1. Create a safe environment
If you know a child is prone to meltdowns, set up a safe space where they can retreat during overwhelming situations. This area should be quiet, comfortable, and free from sensory triggers.
2. Minimise stimulation
If a meltdown is triggered by sensory overload, try to minimise environmental stimuli. Dim the lights, reduce noise, or remove the child from crowded places.
3. Remain patient and understanding
Remember that meltdowns are not voluntary and can be distressing for the child. Refrain from getting frustrated or making judgmental comments. Instead, be empathetic and patient.
4. Provide post-meltdown support
After the meltdown subsides, offer comfort and support. Help them understand what triggered them, and brainstorm new ways to communicate their feelings better in the future. It helps to write some of these ideas down on a whiteboard and keep them as visual reminders.
Understanding the differences between tantrums and meltdowns is essential for responding appropriately to children’s emotional outbursts.
Remember that tantrums are a normal part of a child’s development and can be managed well with clear boundaries and consistent caregiver support, while meltdowns require slightly different approaches, such as creating a safe and calm environment.
By employing these strategies with compassion and understanding, we can better help our children navigate through life’s more challenging moments, and promote stronger emotional regulation, that can set them up for life!
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