Tantrums & Meltdowns: What’s The Difference

Tantrums and meltdowns can look alike but they’re not one and the same. They’re two different kinds of emotional outbursts; and both aren’t clinical terms either. The only similarity they share is perhaps that they’re hard to understand, and they’re hard to prevent. Even harder to respond to when we’re clueless about what they are. Knowing these differences can help us learn how to respond to them when they do happen.

What’s Tantrum

Tantrum, also known as temper tantrum, is commonly used to describe milder outbursts. It can occur as early as when the child is 15 months old. It typically happens when a child is trying to get something that s/he wants or needs. It’s a reaction to a situation that a child can’t, like we adults do, regulate his/her emotions, or handle the situation in a more calm manner. The tantrum is likely to subside or stop altogether if no one is paying attention to it, or, once they’ve got what they wanted.

What’s Meltdown

If tantrum is a reaction to a situation, a meltdown is a reaction to feeling overwhelmed. A child who has a meltdown may find certain sounds, sights or textures upsetting. In other words, s/he is experiencing sensory overload. A meltdown is, therefore, a result of a child who’s struggling with too much sensory input to process. Too much sensory input can be overwhelming not only for adults but also for kids.

Some Ideas To Handle Tantrums

  • Identify the cause and talk the situation through. Learn a better way to handle the situation as it happens, so that you can do it better the next time it happens.
  • Stay calm. If you’re angry, it’ll make the situation harder for you and the child. Be consistent and calm in your approach.
  • Come out with a frustration signal. Teach your child (when s/he is calm) to use that signal whenever s/he feels frustrated.
  • Ignore the tantrum behaviour altogether and give your child some space. For some kids, no reaction is the most effective reaction.

Some Ideas To Manage a Meltdown

  • Understand why your child Is having a meltdown. In other words, know your child’s triggers. Each child has a different set of triggers. It can be lights that are too bright. It can be there are too many people talking; noisy.
  • Learn its early signs. One of its early signs can be your child is refusing to cooperate. Or it can be your child is starting to move a lot.
  • In the event when your child is having a meltdown, stay calm and try taking them to a more open, safer and quieter space. Monitor your child until the meltdown is over.
  • Bring his/her most favourite toy or stuffed animal and maybe their favourite snacks when you guys go out. Try giving them any of those in the event when your child is having a meltdown
  • Talk to your child and reason with them. If you recognise the emotion being expressed in tantrum mode then you are more likely to pick up on cues that can help resolve the issue demonstrate responsiveness to words rather than screams.


Keep in mind that tantrums and meltdowns can be very exhausting. Your child will need time to recuperate. Remember, it takes practice to manage meltdowns and tame tantrums.

Most importantly, learn to recognise its signs and start teaching your child some coping skills. Doing these two can help you both find better ways to respond more effectively in the future.


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Kadane, L. (2019, August 02). What’s the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown? Retrieved March 21, 2020, from https://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/whats-the-difference-between-a-tantrum-and-a-meltdown/

Morin, A. (2019, October 30). The Difference Between Tantrums and Meltdowns. Retrieved March 21, 2020, from https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/sensory-processing-issues/the-difference-between-tantrums-and-meltdowns

O’Donnell, L. (Ed.). (2018, June). Temper Tantrums (for Parents) – Nemours KidsHealth. Retrieved March 21, 2020, from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/tantrums.html

Dealing with Temper Tantrums and How to Stay in Control. (2019, October 17). Retrieved March 21, 2020, from https://katherinerosman.com/tips-dealing-temper-tantrums/

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