Tantrums Vs Meltdowns in children

Santosh Gaikwad
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Why it is important for parents to know the difference between tantrums and meltdowns,  although children exhibit similar behavior (yelling, screaming, crying, dropping to the floor, flailing, hitting or biting self, etc.) during tantrum and meltdown. Because your understanding as a parent will decide who you will help your child come out of it.

What is Tantrum?

Tantrums are one of the most common forms of problematic behavior in young children, but tend to decrease in frequency and intensity as the child grows older.

Following are few points to understand if child is having tantrum.

1. A child having tantrum looks occasionally to see if his or her behavior is getting noticed and getting reaction from people around him or her,  idea is to yell, and draw the attention to them. If you show the aggression they will often seek out others to hit or kick, or get up and seek out property to disrupt.

2. Also child with tantrum do take precautions so that he or she don’t get hurt, they also want to look for reactions from others when being disruptive.

3. It is very important to understand that child with tantrum uses the social situations for his or her benefit. Usually occurs specific to wanting something or escaping something he doesn’t want, they have the ability to talk and negotiate, although yelling and demanding.

4. As soon as goal is achieved, children having tantrum comes back to normal.

Although tantrums can lead to being overwhelmed, they usually start under the control of the child.  Tantrums often occur in nonverbal children when they lack other ways of communicating and getting needs met.

Its very important that parents should not fall prey to the tantrum and just ignore it and things would come back to normal automatically. if parents starts fulfilling the demands as a result of tantrum, children gets habituated to the tantrum.

What is Meltdown?

Meltdowns usually occur when the child’s brain is overwhelmed with stress has reached the panic, fight stress reaction.  The stress builds up to the point that the brain overwhelms and loses the ability to cope.  With meltdowns the child usually:

Meltdown is a total loss of control, something overtakes the child, he or she can not gain control of himself or herself.

Following are few points to understand if child is having meltdown.

1. On the contrary to tantrum, child having meltdown is not involved in any social interaction, or does not want to make a deal or negotiate with you to calm down. They cannot follow directions or argue; too overwhelmed to engage.

2. Child in meltdown does not consider his or her safety,  they not appear to have control over their behavior and be in panic mode.

3.  In meltdown they feel “unsafe” and appear to be reacting out of deep fear. It is generally difficult to identify the cause of emotion, or obvious “want or demand.”

4. Meltdown often occurs from sensory overload, too much cognitive stress, or ongoing social demands that drain the brain.

Child in meltdown usually do not hit, kick, or bite others unless others approach and attempt to calm or redirect. it is very important you back away, give them space, remove demands, and withdraw all interactions.

How to Intervene?

How we interpret the behavior (tantrum or meltdown) may affect the way we intervene.

When child is having meltdown, he or she get totally un-involved with environment.

1. As  during meltdown child is not in a situation to respond or negotiate, proactively teaching coping skills for dealing with the stressful situations is the only way out.

2. As meltdowns might be harmful for the child, removing him or her from areas which can harm should be the top most priority.

3. Then you back away, give them space, remove demands, and withdraw all interactions.

Intervening tantrums is more easier than meltdowns.

1. Identify what is child trying to gain from the tantrum? Provide an appropriate way of communicating the same thing that the tantrum does. Practice and role play to teach the desired response.

e.g. if child does not want to do a task and he starts throwing tantrum, then tell him “If you want us to stop then say ‘stop’” rather than shouting,  and as you get the desired response, immediately back off.  Reinforce your child for using the desired behavior.

2. Minimize both verbal and emotional reactions to the negative behavior (stay matter of fact, no scolding, bribing, counseling, minimal emotion), directing all attention to what your want him to do.

3. If the child refuses to respond, pull all attention away and walk away if possible (if not destructive or injurious). Ignore behavior, but supervise to ensure safety.

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