51. Tantrums are Common and Meltdowns are Inevitable

podcast Aug 26, 2021

In this episode, I talk in-depth about the differences in tantrums and meltdowns.  Their behaviors may look similar but it is important for us as parents to be able to identify the differences so that we know how to best help them.  

With a tantrum, the child is generally choosing to engage in the behavior because of their want for something or escaping something that they don’t want. They are usually acting out to get a reaction from someone else.  A key identifier in a tantrum is that it will end abruptly if given what they want or allowed to escape what it is they are resisting.

The first thing that you need to figure out is what is he or she trying to gain from the tantrum? Do they want something that they cannot have? Are they trying to escape something or somewhere that they don’t want to be or something that they don’t want to do?

It’s important to practice replacement behaviors with them and teach them appropriate ways to get their needs met.

Always keep your emotional AND verbal reactions minimal when it comes to a tantrum.

When a meltdown occurs, it is because the child’s brain is overwhelmed, and they are literally in a fight or flight reaction. Their level of stress in their current setting has escalated to a point where they lose control and are unable to cope with their environment.

Here is what I can tell you, the majority of times when a meltdown is happening it is because they are trying to escape something that is overwhelming and they are not seeking to GAIN anything. They might feel unsafe or the social demands of the situation are simply too much for them to navigate.

Typical behavior techniques that we would use for a tantrum will not work during a meltdown. Their sensory system and brain are so overloaded and overwhelmed that they physically cannot respond.  Meltdowns are highly unpredictable and can come on suddenly and sometimes without any notice.

The most effective strategy for reducing meltdowns is to figure out strategies that will lead to avoiding the meltdown, to begin with.