Dealing With An Emotional Meltdown: Not Just A Tantrum | Kidadl


Dealing With An Emotional Meltdown: Not Just A Tantrum

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Imagine the scene: you see a child screaming, crying, and visibly upset in the supermarket.

It could be an emotional meltdown or a temper tantrum, many parents mix up the two, and although they look very similar, they are very different. However, managing the situation depends on whether you are dealing with a tantrum or an emotional meltdown.

In a nutshell, a tantrum frequently serves a purpose; children often look for a specific response or a reaction. An emotional meltdown is often a reaction to something and a sign of being overstimulated. Although the two may present very similarly when they start, emotional meltdowns are often beyond the child’s control. It’s important to identify the trigger to your child’s behavior immediately to help you understand if it is a tantrum or meltdown.

If you are interested in additional tips for parents, such as considering whether to use [discipline vs punishment] or [habit reversal training], here at Kidadl, we have plenty of informative articles.

Read on for our helpful guide to tantrums and meltdowns and how to handle them.

What Is An Emotional Meltdown?

A  meltdown is a full blow reaction to something and usually not within the individuals’ control. Many things can trigger a meltdown, and for many people, this occurs due to too much information coming from their senses. What’s more, they can also happen to adults and continue through life.

Emotional Meltdown Symptoms

Here are some emotional meltdown symptoms to look out for in your child's behavior:

They are shouting, extremely upset, screaming, or crying.

They may be running away or showing a strong need to escape from the situation.

They are showing a full-body reaction beyond their control.

A panicked expression on their face and a look of feeling overwhelmed.

They are not responding to verbal support or how others react.

Needing time to recover after the meltdown to calm down.

Why Do Kids Have Emotional Meltdowns?

A meltdown occurs when a child’s brain becomes overstimulated by certain sounds, smells, sights, feelings, or tastes. The sensory system becomes too overwhelmed to respond, it’s often known as sensory overload. Such intense feelings can manifest themselves in many ways, like the symptoms mentioned above.  This is why kids have meltdowns and there can be many triggers.

Meltdowns tend to finish in one of two ways: by the parent changing the sensory input or, secondly, by the child becoming exceptionally tired. Some children may crash and fall asleep. Other people start to retreat internally and become withdrawn as they starting to recover.  

Emotional Meltdown vs Temper Tantrum

Temper Tantrums

You may have heard of the term the “terrible twos”, a phase in a child’s development where tantrums are commonplace. Tantrums are often associated with younger children. Many young children do not have the communication skills to express their wants and needs fully, and they also lack the self-control required to keep their emotions in check. Toddler tantrums are an angry outburst, where a child may cry, be feeling overwhelmed with frustration, and hold their breath in some cases. Young kids often stamp their feet, scream, and protest, and as they develop, these episodes will reduce. Children usually have a level of control over them. They come to an end when the child gets what they want, or escapes what they are protesting against, or if they give up. It’s important to note that some kids keep these responses as they grow and even into adulthood, though more self-control is developed. Occasionally tantrums can escalate and turn into an emotional meltdown.

Tempter tantrums can present very similar to meltdowns.

Tantrum Triggers

The signs of a tantrum can look very similar to an emotional meltdown at the onset. It’s helpful to get a grasp of what’s causing the behavior and frustration quickly. It can help you diffuse a stressful situation and prevent it next time. Understanding the triggers also allows you to become empathetic to your child’s needs. Ask yourself as parents, is your kid trying to get something or express themselves? Are they frustrated? Are they trying to avoid something or someone? Are they seeking a reaction? Are they unable to get what they want or need?

How to Respond To A Tantrum

How you respond and manage a tantrum is very different to a meltdown.  With a tantrum, recognize what the child wants without giving in. Acknowledge how they feel, do your best to understand their behavior, accept their frustrations and ensure they are safe.  Keep calm and do not give a reaction or show any extreme emotions. Find a distraction for your kid, or wait for the behavior to stop. You may wish to consider a “yes” response depending on what the child is seeking.

Emotional Meltdown

Remember, emotional meltdowns are a reaction and beyond your child’s self-control. This is the primary difference between a meltdown and a tantrum. An emotional meltdown is your child feeling genuine distress.

Meltdown Triggers

Quickly try to assess what may be causing this outburst in your child. Many things may trigger an emotional meltdown in a child. Start by running through your environment’s five senses, such as sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Notice if there is anything that is impacting your kid. Is it too noisy? Too bright? Any strong smells? Too many people?

Consider the environment of your child, is it too overstimulating?

How To Respond To An Emotional Meltdown

Here are some top tips to help you manage an emotional meltdown:

Do your best to identify triggers causing the meltdown and find out the need of what your child is seeking and the best way to satisfy it. Then try to remove all triggers and stress, such as bright lights, sounds, or smells. If necessary, remove the child from the environment. Identify a calm place nearby. Deep breathing strategies are often effective. If your child is familiar with them, gently remind them if they are in a position to accept verbal commands.

It is important to respond with empathy as emotional meltdowns can be very traumatic for any child. Validate your child’s emotions and speak in a calm, gentle tone. Finally, once your child is safe, it is essential to take some time out for yourself.

When Should You Worry About Meltdowns?

If you are noticing specific patterns behind the meltdown, you should speak to a medical professional. This could be certain situations or scenarios which appear to be triggering your child. The same applies if you are concerned about their mental health or if they have endured any life trauma or major stress, seek advice.

Emotional meltdowns are common in children with autism. An Autism meltdown is often a sign of a very overstimulated kid. For example, this could be entering a shopping mall where the sensory experience is overwhelming. Usually, children with autism may indicate a meltdown is approaching, perhaps by hitting their head with their hands, covering their ears, or hand flapping. There may be other indications a meltdown is on its way and that they are becoming frustrated. If your child is showing these signs of stress speak to a medical professional.

Do note, autism isn’t the only diagnosis linked to meltdowns. It could also be a sensory processing or integration difficulty, amongst others. Do seek a professional opinion on how to manage your child and understand what is causing the behavior.

If you found this article helpful, then why not take a look at our [toddler behavior chart], or what to do if your child gets [expelled from school]?

Written By
Martha Martins

<p>Martha is a full-time creative writer, content strategist, and aspiring screenwriter who communicates complex thoughts and ideas effectively. She has completed her Bachelor's in Linguistics from Nasarawa State University. As an enthusiast of public relations and communication, Martha is well-prepared to substantially impact your organization as your next content writer and strategist. Her dedication to her craft and commitment to delivering high-quality work enables her to create compelling content that resonates with audiences.</p>

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