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  • Writer's pictureJasmine K.Y. Loo

Tantrums or Meltdowns?

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Tantrums or Meltdowns?

The terms “tantrum” and “meltdown” have been used interchangeably by many but are, in fact, different things.

It is important to differentiate a child’s meltdowns from tantrums, even though it can be hard, just from looking at your upset child. Understanding the difference can help you respond effectively to support your child.

Reflecting on two simple questions might help:

Is my child upset because (s)he is not getting their way or because of overwhelm?

Tantrums are an expression of frustrations from not getting what (s)he wants.

Perhaps your child wanted to go to the shops today and you have other commitments and could not go.

Perhaps it is hoping to beat their brother at soccer but not making a goal. Or it could be not wanting peas on their plate.

Meltdowns, on the other hand, is a reaction to a sense of overwhelm, either from an overload of sensory input or intense emotions that your child might not understand or have the skills needed to manage.

In other words, they are a response to feeling out of control.

The bright lights and loud noises at the mall could be making his/her head pound in a very uncomfortable way.

The emotional build up that was suppressed and accumulated from the challenges of going through an entire school day might be unravelling at the end of the day.

Does my child have any control over his/her behaviour?

Tantrums would usually stop when the child gets what they wanted, which means that the child usually has at least some control over their behaviour.

However, calmly acknowledging their wants and setting firm and healthy boundaries would be a more beneficial way of managing tantrums in the long run.

Children usually have little control of their behaviour during meltdowns because they are in a fight or flight mode.

Engaging them in therapy or teaching them skills to better tolerate and manage sensory inputs and strong emotions could help decrease the frequency and/or intensity of meltdowns over time.

If you have noticed that your child is struggling with tantrums or meltdowns regularly, a child psychologist can be a helpful resource. You can email us using the Contact Us page above to book in for a session.

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