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Is it a Tantrum or Meltdown?

Throwing a tantrum. Pitching a fit. Having a meltdown. Whatever your family may call it, many families struggle through periods of explosive behavior in their children. Parents are shocked and dismayed when their little one, usually so happy, starts to bite, kick and scream at the smallest things. Depending on your own experience during childhood, your personality and your values, you will develop a way to re-establish authority and restore peace.

But what about when the behaviors don’t stop? Parents may up the stakes, imposing harsher consequences, and seeing the loving, nurturing relationship they dreamed of fade before their eyes. This can happen when parents assume that all explosive behavior is the same. In fact, there are two very basic types of escalated behavior in children:

Northwestern Psych Seattle Meltdown & Tantrum

A tantrum is a period in which your child makes the choice to use a behavior such as screaming, going limp, or becoming aggressive to achieve a specific goal. These goals can be specific, like more time on electronics, or they can be general like attention, comfort, or delaying a feared or undesirable activity. Tantrums require a response that is structured and specific to make tantrum behavior ineffective for the child and reward positive behaviors.

Northwestern Psych Seattle Meltdown & Tantrum

A meltdown occurs when your child is responding to an internal experience – an emotion, thought, or sensation – that is overwhelming their ability to cope. Meltdowns are more likely to occur in children who have a reduced capacity to cope because of ADHD, anxiety, depression, or trauma. Stressful periods in a child’s early life, such as a divorce or financial troubles, can also endanger a child’s ability to learn coping skills, and thus lead to meltdowns. Using the rewards and consequences strategies that you use for a tantrum with a meltdown can escalate, frustrate or shut-down your child.

Northwestern Psych Seattle Meltdown & Tantrum

Finding out whether it is a tantrum or a meltdown can be difficult. Here are a few questions to help you get started:

  • If your child breaks things, are they HERS/HIS favorite things (meltdown) or someone else’s favorite things (tantrum)?
  • Can your child use full and complex sentences (tantrum) or are they using only sounds or short phrases (meltdown)?
  • Does your child experience remorse or shame after a behavioral explosion (meltdown) or happiness at getting the desired result (tantrum)?

Whether a tantrum or a meltdown, you can reconnect with your child and bring peace back to your home. You have a wide range of options open to you as you find solutions. For support and guidance as you explore, give us a call at 360-692-3970 (www.nwfamilypsychology.com).

Contact our office today to schedule an appointment with Amanda Harmon, LMHC. She specializes in the emotional, behavioral, and social treatment of children ages 6 through 21. Amanda uses evidence-based practices with advanced training in treatment approaches for childhood anxiety, depression, and trauma, as well as behavioral management and parenting support.

Amanda is currently accepting new patients at our Silverdale office and Poulsbo offices .
Most insurance plans accepted.

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