A tantrum is an outburst of intense, emotion-driven behaviour that can be exhibited by young children. They typically start between the ages of 1 and 4, and can last well into later childhood years. A meltdown is ALSO an intense and overwhelming emotional response that can be exhibited by individuals, but they can occur at any age, and are more commonly associated with neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, anxiety, as well as some mental health difficulties, such as PTSD.
During both tantrums, and meltdowns, an individual may scream, cry, kick, throw objects, hurt themselves accidentally or on purpose, or withdraw and seem to shut down. Tantrums can occur in response to frustration, anger, or other strong emotions, and can be triggered by a variety of factors, such as hunger, fatigue, overstimulation, or a desire for attention or control. Tantrums are a normal part of child development and can be a way for children to express their emotions when they do not yet have the language skills to do so effectively. Meltdowns can also be triggered by a variety of factors, such as sensory overload, emotional stress, changes in routine, or difficulty with communication or social interaction.
In both tantrums and meltdowns, the behaviours can be distressing for both the individual experiencing the difficult emotions, and for those around them. And it’s important to note that something might start as a tantrum, but as the individual becomes increasingly overwhelmed by their emotions and the bodily sensations and stress these bring about, they might move into meltdown.
In either instance, we need to understand that the child or individual isn’t behaving this way on purpose and that they feel awful. Nobody likes having these strong and overwhelming emotions, and most of us want to feel calm and happy rather than angry and upset. A calm, compassionate, and curious approach to individuals who are experiencing strong emotions is often the fastest way to both help them back to calm, and understand what happened to them.
If you or your child are struggling with tantrums or meltdowns, you might like to have a look at our Director, Jessica Cleary’s evidence-based Calm and Connected Parenting Program to help you understand what’s going on, and to calm the chaos. You can find a link HERE.