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"Temper Tantrums or Sensory Meltdowns? Understanding the Differences.

Tantrums and meltdowns are both challenging behaviours that may be displayed by children, but they differ in their underlying causes and characteristics.

Tantrums are typically considered as behavioral outbursts that are often related to a child's attempt to gain attention, express frustration, or obtain a desired outcome. Tantrums are usually characterised by loud crying, screaming, kicking, hitting, and other disruptive behaviours. Tantrums are typically short-lived and may occur in response to specific triggers, such as not getting a toy or being denied a privilege.

On the other hand, meltdowns are often associated with sensory overload or emotional overwhelm, and are typically more intense and longer-lasting than tantrums. Meltdowns may be triggered by sensory stimuli, such as bright lights, loud noises, or crowded environments, or by emotional factors, such as frustration, anxiety, or sensory sensitivities. During a meltdown, a child may lose control and exhibit a range of behaviours, including crying, screaming, flopping to the ground, self-hitting, or other forms of self-regulatory behaviours.

Here are some key differences between tantrums and meltdowns:

  1. Cause: Tantrums are often triggered by specific events or situations, such as not getting what the child wants, while meltdowns may be triggered by sensory overload, emotional overwhelm, or other internal factors.

  2. Duration and intensity: Tantrums are typically shorter in duration and less intense compared to meltdowns, which may last longer and involve more intense emotional and behavioral responses.

  3. Communication: Tantrums are often seen as a form of communication to express frustration or get attention, while meltdowns may result from sensory sensitivities or emotional overwhelm, and may be less communicative in nature.

  4. Self-regulation: Tantrums may involve attempts to gain control or manipulate the situation, while meltdowns are often a loss of self-regulation due to sensory or emotional overload.

  5. Response to comfort: Tantrums may sometimes respond to comfort or distraction techniques, while meltdowns may require a different approach that addresses sensory or emotional factors.

It's important to understand that both tantrums and meltdowns can be challenging behaviors, and it's crucial to approach them with empathy, understanding, and appropriate strategies for managing and supporting the child. Consulting with a qualified professional, such as a paediatrician or a psychologist, can provide further guidance and support in managing tantrums or meltdowns in children.

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