It is important to know the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown. A tantrum is when a child is frustrated and angry because they are either are not getting their way or not being understood. A meltdown is when a child is overwhelmed and unable to control or regulate their emotional response.
First and foremost, pay attention to what triggers the behavior. Is it because they have a hard time ending an activity they prefer? Try to set your child up for success during this hard transition. Five minute verbal warnings, a sand timer, etc. It also helps to give your child a sense of control. For instance, if you need your child to leave an activity they enjoy to clean up and get ready for dinner I would give the child a five minute warning, then ask them if they would like to wash hands or set the table first. By letting them choose what they do next it gives them a sense of control over the situation.
At times tantrums may happen because of a lack of communication and the child is not being understood, especially with toddlers. Encourage your child to use their words (if possible) or show you what is bothering them. If your child is having a hard time communicating it helps when you model the language. Praise and positively reinforce when they are able to tell you or show you what is bothering them. Therefore the next time they know they will get their needs met with this positive behavior instead of spiraling into a tantrum.
When it comes to meltdowns I suggest taking note of the time of day it occurs. It is right after school? Or after a virtual learning session? Your child is holding it together during these times and it is perfectly normal for them to unravel when they feel safe around you.
Know your child’s limits and adjust accordingly. If you find your child having meltdowns at birthday parties don’t avoid them entirely. Adjust your expectations. Who says you need to stay at birthday parties the whole time? If you find your child does well the first hour and then loses it once it’s time to sing ‘happy birthday’ it’s OK to say goodbye and exit stage left beforehand. What matters most is your child learns how to self-regulate and have a positive experience during these occasions.
What Parents Can Do
Children fed off of their parents energy. The most beneficial thing you can do while your child is having a tantrum or meltdown is KEEP CALM. I know it’s easier said than done, but you will see the difference and how quickly your child is able to come around when you are calm. Modeling the coping skills they need to learn is crucial when it comes to handling tantrums and meltdowns.