It can be difficult distinguishing the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum when looking at an upset child, but it’s important to know they are not the same. Knowing the difference can help you learn how to respond to best support a child.
Meltdown Versus Tantrum
What is Sensory Meltdown
For some kids, a sensory meltdown can happen when there’s too much sensory information to process. The loud lunch room or a busy place like a shopping mall. For other kids, it can be a reaction to having too many things to think about. Multiple directions given to them at once or looking at a closet full of clothes, deciding what to wear.
Sensory meltdowns are a reaction to something around them that is beyond the child’s control. A sensory meltdown is a fight, flight or freeze response to sensory overload.
Meltdowns may look different for each child, it will also differ depending if the response to a trigger is a fight, flight or freeze response. Examples could be running, whining, hiding, avoiding eye contact, crying, hitting, pushing, punching, biting, spitting, or shutting down (not talking or moving).
Common Causes of Sensory Overload Meltdowns
Managing a Meltdown
Find a safe and quiet place to de-escalate. You can prompt the child by saying in a calm quiet voice, “let’s go to sit by the window for a few minutes.” During this time, remain calm and try not to talk too much. The goal is to reduce the input coming at them.
Teach the child calming and self-regulation techniques. Creating an sensory or anti-anxiety tool-kit specifically for the child is a very effective way to ease the meltdowns. The key to this is practicing with the child prior to meltdowns.
What is a Temper Tantrum
Tantrums occur when a child is unable to get what he wants or needs. Tantrums are controllable and it is common for a child to calm down and then get angry again. This is attention seeking behavior.
There can be many reasons a child has a temper tantrum. If you and a child are struggling with this behavior consult a professional who specializes in child behaviors such as a therapist, psychologist or doctor.
Most of us know at least one person who has had someone important to them pass in the last year. Even if we've experienced a loss ourselves, it's often difficult to determine how to comfort and support a friend who's grieving, as every loss is different. As both a therapist and as one who has experienced the loss of a close family member, I'll share some ideas of how to support a friend or family member through a loss.
In the first 2 weeks…
In the first 6 months…
After the first month of a loss, people are much less likely to check in with a grieving person. Unfortunately, this can be one of the most difficult times for a bereaved person, as they begin to settle back in to a "normal" routine again without their loved one. Periodically check in with the person to see how they're doing. Questions like "What's your grief look like this week?" help a bereaved person normalize grief reactions and process how this loss has affected his/her life to date, while questions like "How are you doing today?" can sometimes elicit shame about the grieving process.
6 months and beyond…
Avoid these unhelpful statements during conversation
If you're reading this as someone in the midst of the bereavement process, know you're not alone. Consider discussing some of these tips with your support network so they know how to best support you. What’s been helpful for you through the grieving process? Comment below!
Using praise is a great strategy to increase positive behaviors in your child. Research suggests that paying attention to positive behaviors rather than pointing out or correcting negative ones, can be effective in increasing positive behaviors. But why does this work and how do we give our praises the most punch?
Praise is effective because it gives children something they crave - our attention. Parental attention is like gold! Unfortunately, this sometimes means that when kids aren’t getting our attention they’ll do whatever it takes to get noticed - and sometimes that means by acting out. Children learn that behaviors like whining, bargaining and interrupting quickly grabs their parent’s attention in the moment, and because of this they learn it’s an effective strategy to “hook” their parent back in. When you give your child positive attention for good behavior he’ll be less likely to act out. The following are a few tips that I often share with families in my practice.
1. Use labeled or specific praise rather than vague, general praise. Research shows that labeled praise – "Good job sharing your toys!" works better than unlabeled praise "Good job!” - because it specifically targets a behavior. If you’re playing with your child and he hands you a toy, saying ‘Thank you!’ is nice, but saying “Thank you for sharing…it’s so fun to play with you when you share your toys” - is an even more powerful reinforcer. It increases the chances he will share again in the future with you and with others.
2. Catch them being good. It's easy to let good behaviors go unnoticed. Let’s say you walk into the room to find your two children playing with the toys nicely together. You may be tempted to tiptoe back out of the room quietly - after all it’s a great time to get some laundry done and you don’t want to say anything that will upset the dynamic. However, making an enthusiastic statement about the positive interaction you’re seeing can help reinforce the behavior - “I love seeing you two sharing so nicely together!” In another example, if you have to tell your child daily to put his shoes away when he gets home from school and one day he miraculously does this on his own - remember that praise will reinforce the behavior - “Thank you so much for putting your shoes away today without me asking!"
3. Use “positive opposites” to shape behaviors. This means paying much less attention to or completely ignoring the negative behavior (whining for example) and being careful to catch them displaying the positive opposite behavior - “thank you for using your big boy words to ask me!” Instead of noticing when she’s being rough with the toys, watch for and praise “I love your gentle hands.” Another example is to look for times your child listens and does what you ask and use praise like - “Awesome listening!” or “Super following directions!” If you consistently praise positive opposite behaviors you’ll likely see these behaviors grow.
4. Praise effort rather than outcome. I’ve taught many parenting workshops over the years and the question always comes up - do kids get too much praise? Making praise specific and labeled, and then praising effort and process rather than the outcome is a helpful guide. If your child brings home an A on their science project focus on the effort they put into studying - “It was cool to see how much fun you had working on that project!” - rather than the grade - “Great job getting an A.” This will help reinforce for your child that it feels intrinsically good to study and work hard on something, rather than putting the focus on the outcome.
5. It’s never too late to offer praise. Even though research shows that labeled praise is most reinforcing right at the time of the behavior, it’s never a bad idea to show your child later you appreciate something she did. When snuggling them into bed at night a comment like “I saw you sharing your toys with your little brother today and it made him so happy” - helps her learn how her behavior impacts someone else in a positive way - and makes it much more likely she will repeat that behavior in the future.
Using labeled praise can sound and feel awkward at first. Many parents I work with worry their praise will sound fake or insincere. But with practice, parents can learn to look for positive behaviors and a little labeled praise will go a long way to reinforce them. “Great job” will become “Great job cleaning up so quickly!” “Thank you” will become “Thanks for following directions so well!” Praise is a simple but effective discipline strategy that increases good behavior. Noticing when your child is displaying positive behaviors will help motivate him to keep up the good work.