How to Know if it’s a Meltdown or a Tantrum.

Meltdowns vs tantrums

We’ve all seen it, both in real life and in birth control advertisements. The kid in the grocery store kicking and screaming on the floor while their parent has that look on their face. You know the one. It’s an equal mix of “oh no, please stop staring at me”, “I’ve got this handled, mind your business”, and “If you don’t stop screaming right this minute, so help me…”.

It’s just a kid having a temper tantrum who needs better parenting, right? Well first of all, who am I to judge your parenting skills? and second, there’s a huge difference between a tantrum and a meltdown.

Tantrums can be the due to a number of things. It could be that someone has difficulty expressing frustration. It could also be that the person having the tantrum has a limited vocabulary, and can’t fully convey how they are feeling, using body language as their primary language. Meltdowns, on the other hand, are typically caused by feelings of anxiety, fear, and overwhelm. The root of these feelings are most often sensory-related. They tend to show up in loud, bright places, but depending on the individual, other places/sensations/experiences may trigger a meltdown. Now comes the hard part…

Tantrums and meltdowns can look very similar. Yelling, kicking, hitting. So how do we tell which is which?

One of the main differences between tantrums and meltdowns are that tantrums are goal-driven. If the person checks to see if you’re paying attention to their behavior, and once they get what they want, the behavior stops almost immediately, it’s probably a tantrum. Meltdowns aren’t like this. Meltdowns are driven by a fear or sense of overwhelm. If the person doesn’t care whether or not they get attention, and the behavior gradually decreases once the person feels safe, then it’s mostly likely a meltdown, and the person may have sensory sensitivities.

Have you ever witnessed (or had) a tantrum or a meltdown? What was it like?

Leave a Reply