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I hate you, go away! Understanding Tantrums and Meltdowns

We’ve had our child say these lines at some point in our lives.

And to settle things, we would go for the only way we know- offer an incentive or for some, utter a threat.

Here’s the scoop on tantrums and meltdowns. Pay attention as knowing the difference and the details will help you big time.

A tantrum is a sudden reaction, like an outburst, when a child is trying to get what he wants or needs. For very young children as they are still impulsive, tantrum is their initial and automatic response. They may hit, bite, pull, or throw objects, and cry. For children who are still learning to manage their emotions, they may go into tantrums out of frustration and anger. You may see your child looking at you in the middle of his or her tantrum. Older children may do this on purpose as they understand (from your reaction and responses in previous times) that they will get what they want.

The tantrum is likely to stop when the child gets what he or she wants, OR when he or she realizes you are staying firm.

A meltdown or a sensory meltdown is a child’s reaction to feeling overwhelmed. A sensory overload is when the situation proves too much for the child to handle.

For example, a 4-year-old boy comes out from afternoon school at 4:30 pm. He is tired and hungry, but wants to keep playing with his peers. You let him play for ten minutes. Later, he spots a toy truck and tries to get it from his classmate. The classmate refuses; the boy starts throwing things, starting a big cry. The boy gets so tired from crying, that even when the classmate decides to share the toy truck with him, the boy refuses, kicks and cries some more.

The boy does not get appeased, and might carry on that meltdown until it is time to eat dinner and might even be so until sleeping time.

A lot of factors can cause meltdowns and tantrums. One that is mostly overlooked, that even children developing normally get affected with, is something to do with sensory processing. When children have sensory problems, it affects their ability to focus and be in attention, or be on task. Sensory issues come in widely different forms- from the heat, sound that appears to be too loud, or socks that are too tight, shirt tags that are annoying, feel of the sand- name it. And these translate to misbehaviors wherever your child is at that time.

How to Respond

Knowing what contributes to your child’s tantrum or meltdown can help you better respond. Look at the situation- the cues or signs your child is displaying, like scratching the hair, looking irritated, feeling restless. We don’t have to force them to ignore these and they don’t merit our snapping or irritation from our end.

Again, acknowledge their emotion and don’t stop until you find out what is actually the cause.

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