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.