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Meltdowns vs. Tantrums What’s the difference?

“I just love when my child has a meltdown or tantrum!” said no Mama EVER!

Behavioral/Emotional outbursts are the worst because you can’t always predict when they’ll happen. You could be at home, or in the car, or even in the grocery store. Regardless, I’m sure every Mama would agree with me that when they do hit, it can be an emotionally draining experience for both your and your child.

There are many ways to handle meltdowns and tantrums, but first and foremost, you need to be able to determine if your child is having a meltdown or a tantrum. There is a significant difference. Either way, your child is trying to communicate something to you and you must be able to decipher between the two in order to be able to best help your child.

Meltdowns

They occur when your child has no control over his behavior/emotions. It’s a direct result of some sort of over-stimulation (sensory) and feeling overwhelmed in the moment. Time is the only thing that can help your child until they learn how to self-regulate on their own. The best way to handle a melt down is to give your child space but be close enough to help them just in case they are in danger of hurting themselves or others.

For example: Your child is in a restaurant for too long & the noises (external stimuli) start to become too much for your child to take in. As a result, your child starts to scream, plug their ears, hit, kick, bite, etc….

Best way to help your child with Meltdowns

  • Have Knowledge of your child’s specific sensory issues. If you don’t know ask the person who diagnosed your child what their sensory struggles are.
  • Create a Sensory Diet at home.
  • Create a Sensory To-Go Kit for your child for when you aren’t at home.
  • Keep track of their triggers so you can help prevent a possible meltdown.

REMEMBER-Meltdowns don’t need an audience to continue. It’s important to avoid trying to physically control your child during a meltdown unless you have to move your child to a safe space. Meltdowns stick around until your child learns ways to cope with triggers that set them off.

Tantrums

This behavior typically occurs when your child wants something that they have been told they can’t get. Children that are “throwing a tantrum” want an audience and the more attention from Mama the stronger a tantrum can get.

For example: Your child wants a toy at the store, but they haven’t earned it. As a result, your child is losing their minds in the store screaming and crying. This is NOT a meltdown. A lot of Mamas assume it is because our children are on the Spectrum, but it is definitely possible for our children to have tantrums.

Best ways to help your child with Tantrums

  • Recognize why your child is behaving this way. What are they wanting?
  • Stay firm. Don’t give in to your child’s demands just because you may be in embarrassed by others or you don’t want to deal with the behavior.
  • Figure out if your child struggles with impulse control, self-soothing, communication etc…ask your pediatrician for appropriate referrals.

REMEMBER-Tantrums need an audience. They have a goal and they are often due to frustration. When you ignore your child during their tantrum they will most likely follow you or stop all together. Tantrums tend to decrease as your child gets older.

So basically…..

Tantrums are behavioral and Meltdowns are sensory related that require your child’s ability to regulate their emotions. It’s YOUR job to figure out what specific resources & tools your child needs. Be proactive in your child’s emotional health. It’s the only way to decrease both Tantrums & Meltdowns.

By Rachelle Fritz

I'm a Wife, a Mom, & a former Mental Health Therapist turned Autism Parent Coach. I advocate for the needs of Mamas raising children on the Autism Spectrum. Being a parent is HARD! Being a parent of a child on the spectrum comes with it's on extra set of challenges. I created this blog specifically for us Mamas! My goal is to help Mamas become their strongest self, so they can raise their children with confidence. I believe that Mamas need Support, Education, & Empowerment in order to maintain that confidence!

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