Tantrums and Meltdowns – 5 things you need to know and information about some online sessions

Child having a tantrum
Image by Chirag Rathod, CC BY-SA 2.0

If you have a toddler or a preschooler in your home then I would be confident that at some time, probably many times, you have been faced with your child having a Tantrum. It can be frustrating, annoying and upsetting to see your child fall apart in front of you for what often seems like a very small event. They often arise at inconvenient times, maybe just before you are due to go out, or maybe getting into the car seat or leaving the park as it is time for dinner. 

I prefer the term “Meltdown” to Tantrums – I feel that Meltdown explains more clearly what is going on within your child. A Tantrum is kind of a mini-meltdown. You can help your child get over them fairly quickly with prompting, distraction and support. In a meltdown, however, the body literally shuts down, wanting to escape the “threat” that it perceives. During these instances, children will lose total control of themselves, their body and mind is unable to rationalise, hear or respond to us and they are completely running on emotion. 

I feel that if, as parents, we can understand what is happening ‘behind the scenes’ then we can help prepare children to deal with these ‘perceived threats’ and teach some tools and skills that, with practice, will help children self-regulate their emotions. If we always just deal with a meltdown with punishment, we are losing the opportunity to develop a child’s awareness of their body and emotions.

After reading the tips below, if you would like to further develop your own skills of Managing Meltdowns with your 18 month – 4 year old child then Julie is running an online, live session via Zoom on 2 dates:

Tickets are £10 per person or couple and include a 1-1, 30-minute phone call with Julie which can be scheduled to suit you after the session.

5 things you need to know

  1. What is happening?
    Tantrums are often seen as misbehaviour, defiance and control. But what goes on is more physiological than this which is why I prefer the term ‘Meltdowns’. Something has happened in your child’s world that has created a strong, emotional response. The ‘fight’, ‘flight’ or ‘freeze’ response has been triggered and rational and logical thinking breaks down. During the meltdown, your child is now in a state of ‘emotional brain’ and will not be able to logically work through the problem, even with your support at this time. 
  2. You need patience
    Your child is now emotionally out of control and the last thing you want to happen is for you to lose control as well. Remain close, but respect their personal space. If your child lets you, try to offer some physical reassurance, a touch on a shoulder or on the back, for example, but you know your child and for some children this touch can be overstimulating and even threatening. 
  3. Breathing
    While you are waiting for your child to calm, work on your own breathing. Take obvious deep breaths opposite your child. Encourage them to breathe with you and, in time, they will match your breathing patterns. Practice breathing exercises at times when your child is calm so that it becomes a more natural skill during meltdowns. 
  4. Triggers
    Understand your child’s triggers and prepare around them. Can you avoid them? Children will feel more settled when they know their routine and what happens next in the day. Children find it incredibly difficult to transition from a play activity they are enjoying to a more mundane task such as mealtime, bedtime or going shopping. Prepare and work with them. Involve them in that part of the routine. Give time warnings, preferably visual cues that they can refer to when change is about to happen. Try to stand in your child’s shoes and think how they think and perceive things. What do you feel could be done to help your child emotionally in this situation? What response would you like if you were emotionally struggling?
  5. Problem solve after calmness is resumed
    Work together to address the triggers and emotions. Listen to what your child is trying to tell you and give them a safe space to express themselves. Acknowledge their feelings from the event but still remind them of boundaries and expectations. Be fair, consistent, kind and loving.