Understanding the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum-

Tantrums and meltdowns can look similar but aren’t the same thing, they need to be responded to differently. We’ve all seen kids upset and crying in a store or at the playground. Most families sympathize because they’ve been there with their own kids.

Many people assume what they’re seeing is a child throwing a tantrum, and that could be. But it might be a meltdown and if you’ve ever experienced your child having a meltdown, you know that the two have to be dealt with differently. Frustration, anxiety, stress, upset, and depression: Together they can lead to an emotional eruption, or what some people call a “meltdown.” Sometimes you feel so emotionally overwhelmed by unpleasant feelings that you can no longer control them or hide them from others. That\’s when you act out or have an emotional meltdown. For many kids and adults, meltdowns happen when they get too much information from their senses. The brain is too stimulated by certain sounds, sights, tastes, or textures. It gets overwhelmed trying to process it all. This is called sensory overload.

Some experts think overload sparks a fight-or-flight response. Intense feelings come out in the form of yelling, crying, lashing out, fleeing, or even shutting down. Tantrums are common in young kids. Many toddlers and pre-schoolers don’t yet have the language to express themselves or the self-control to keep emotions in check. They may yell, cry, or stomp their feet when they’re frustrated or are trying to get something they want or need.

As kids develop, they usually have fewer tantrums. But some kids keep having these strong emotional reactions as they get older.


Trouble managing emotions

It’s normal to feel angry and sad when things don’t turn out how you hoped. But without good emotional regulation skills, some people have a hard time navigating those emotions in appropriate ways. Not everyone learns to express emotions in healthy ways. People who learned to suppress emotions often experience outbursts when they can no longer push them back. Imagine a pot left to boil with the lid on. Eventually, the contents will bubble up and spill over, right? Emotions follow a similar pattern.


Experiencing meltdowns and rage attacks can be pretty upsetting. Even when you realize your reaction doesn’t really match the situation, you might feel powerless to calm down or react differently.

Know your triggers

You can’t plan for every circumstance that triggers a meltdown or rage attack. Still, knowing what types of situations tend to make you angry or upset can help you come up with strategies to prevent outbursts. Start by listing situations when you’ve lost control in the past, or tracking outbursts for several weeks to identify any patterns.

Once you’ve identified potential triggers, you can develop strategies to handle them:

· If things in your environment upset you, you might try getting a cool drink, taking a walk, or finding a quiet place to be alone.

· Outline a few ways to politely refuse changes in your routine that trigger distress.

· Prepare a list of calming activities, like meditation or music.

· Look for other ways you can express your anger, like drawing, writing in a journal, or playing music.

Practice relaxation techniques

While relaxation exercises can’t replace therapy and other professional treatment, they can help you manage anger and outbursts. The key to success lies in practicing these techniques regularly. When they become part of your routine, it’s easier to reach for them when you become upset.

Practice good communication

When you’re really upset, it might feel satisfying to scream or kick furniture, but these actions don’t let other people know why you’re angry. These actions usually won’t do much to resolve the problem, either. You could also hurt yourself or someone else.

Improved communication can help you express anger in healthier ways. If you can name and describe specific emotions and feelings, other people have a better chance of understanding the problem and helping you resolve it.

Don’t ignore your feelings.

Sweeping your feelings under a rug doesn’t make them go away. Acknowledging how you feel, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to look at what is causing those feelings and to take action, even if it’s just discussing your feelings with another person.

Listen to your body.

Tight muscles, headaches, and other types of pain and discomfort are telling you something. Rather than taking a pain killer and pushing ahead with what you’re doing, take a step back and observe what’s making you tense.

Don’t ignore your feelings.

Sweeping your feelings under a rug doesn’t make them go away. Acknowledging how you feel, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to look at what is causing those feelings and to take action, even if it’s just discussing your feelings with another person.

Steer clear of people who are hurtful and unkind.

You’re not obliged to socialize with people who don’t treat you with care and respect, even if they’re related to you. Minimize the time you spend with people whose company you don’t enjoy, and seek out more time with those you do.

Talk with a professional

It’s not always possible to manage rage attacks or tantrums yourself.

A therapist can teach you relaxation techniques and skills to better manage your feelings. These can help with any kind of tantrum or rage attack, regardless of the underlying cause.


Ways to tame a tantrum

Agree on a frustration signal.

Talk with your child about what “getting frustrated” looks like from your point of view. Ask if there’s anything your child wants you to look for, too. Then come up with a signal to use when your child is getting frustrated, like pulling on your earlobe. Talk about what you’ll both do to calm the situation when you use the signal.

Think about what’s causing the tantrum.

Using a signal or going to a calm space might not always do the trick. If you can’t head off a tantrum, try to figure out what’s causing it. Knowing the source makes it easier to defuse in the moment. It also helps you both find better ways to avoid the situation next time.

Assign a calm space.

Find a place in your home that can be a designated calm space. It doesn’t have to be fancy. For example, it could simply be a chair your child likes to sit in. Explain this is a space for calming down, not a punishment space. Your child can go there to take a break when you use the frustration signal.

Acknowledge your child’s feelings.

Your child might be acting out, but that doesn’t mean your child’s feelings aren’t real. Try to be empathetic and help your child put names to those feelings. For example: “I know you’re angry with me because I asked you to turn off the video game. I get mad, too, when I have to stop doing something fun.”

Praise the behaviour you want to see.

When your child gains control and calms down, let your child know it with praise. Give specifics about what your child did well. For example, “I know you were really angry and it was hard for you to stop yelling. You did a nice job taking some time to cool down. Now we can talk about this calmly.”

Ways to tackle a meltdown

Try to distract from the trigger.

For some kids, the escalation phase can be interrupted. It might help to distract your child with a different task or activity.

Be patient.

Your instinct may be to try to stop an escalation quickly. But talking fast and loud often makes it worse. Give your child more space and more time to process what you’re saying. Use short, concrete sentences that take away your child’s need to make decisions.

Do a safety assessment.

When your child is screaming and throwing things, it may feel like an emergency. But that doesn’t mean it is. The question to consider: Is anyone hurt or going to get hurt?

Be reassuring.

It takes trial and error to know if your child wants physical distance or a firm hug or touch. But keeping your voice and body language calm is helpful in either case. Make sure your child knows you’re there and that you understand that this may feel scary and out of control.

Tone it down.

Turn down lights, keep things quiet, and try not to crowd your child. If you’re at home and your child isn’t able or willing to move, try standing off to the side.

Find the right time to talk.

You can help your child make sense of what happened. Right after a meltdown may not be the best time, though. When you’re both calm, here are some ways to approach it:

Give your child a heads-up. Give advance notice that you’re going to talk and be reassuring that your child’s not in trouble.

Be brief. Talking about a meltdown can make kids feel bad and defensive. Say what you need to say, but try to avoid saying the same thing over and over.

Managing meltdowns and taming tantrums takes practice. Learning to recognize the signs and teaching your child coping skills can help you both find better ways to respond in the future.

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