SENSORY MELTDOWN VS. TANTRUMS

Tantrums are unpleasant and disruptive behaviors or emotional outbursts. They often occur in response to unmet needs or desires. Tantrums are more likely to occur in younger children or others who cannot express their needs or control their emotions when they are frustrated. A tantrum is an outburst that happens when kids are trying to get something they want or need. Temper tantrums are pretty typical for toddlers and preschoolers. Once kids have more language to express themselves, tantrums tend to subside a little.

              A Meltdown is very different from a tantrum. It’s a reaction to feeling overwhelmed. For some kids, it happens when they’re getting too much sensory input—that’s information coming in from their senses. Kids may become upset by certain sounds, sights, tastes, and textures. You might hear this called sensory overload. The commotion of an amusement park might set them off, for instance. For other kids, it can be a reaction to having too many things to think about. A back-to-school shopping trip could cause a tantrum that triggers a meltdown.

A meltdown is a reaction to trying to process too much sensory input all at once. Too much sensory input can be overwhelming—not just for kids, but for adults, too. Here’s one way to think about too much sensory input. Imagine filling a small water pitcher. Most of the time, you can control the flow of water and fill the pitcher a little at a time. But sometimes the water flow is too strong and the pitcher overflows before you can turn the water off.

That’s how a meltdown based on sensory overload works. The noise at the amusement park or the stack of clothes to try on in the dressing room at the mall is sensory input that floods the brain. Once that happens, some experts think the “fight-or-flight” response kicks in. That excess input overflows in the form of yelling, crying, lashing out or running away—or even just shutting down completely

Key Takeaways:

  • Tantrums often happen when kids are trying to get something they want or need.
  • Meltdowns can occur when kids feel overwhelmed by their feelings or surroundings.
  • Let your child know these behaviors are common and can improve
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