Meltdown vs Tantrum and How You Can Help

I have read a lot about the differences between meltdowns and tantrums, and had planned to write a post on it…one day. The other day, a friend of mine that has a special needs child posted this on her Facebook status, and I asked her if I could use it as a guest post.
I would like to thank Breanna for allowing me to share to help raise awareness and understanding for moms dealing with meltdowns.

Meltdown VS Temper Tantrum Or Fit

I wanted to try to help others see what we see when we see a meltdown. I know that others will never LIVE what we live unless you are blessed enough to have a special child like Leah.
And blessed we are. (I used that word on purpose.) Some may see her as a burden. I see her as a blessing.
The only way to help others know the difference between a meltdown and a temper tantrum is to give them a glimpse into our lives.
I’ve tried to be pretty open on Leah’s page. I don’t like taking videos of her in meltdown unless I need to for the doctors. So, that is one way that I refuse to invade her privacy. So, the only other way to help you see what we go through on a day to day basis, is to write about it.
To write about the differences and help you to see them. Help you to understand what we go through day in and day out.
Not so that you can give me sympathy. Because I don’t want it. I believe this life I am living is a blessing and I wouldn’t change it. I would help her if I could. But, I can’t. I’m writing this, so that you can better help a fellow struggling mom in the store next time you see a child in a meltdown or a temper tantrum.
So that you know that we are trying our best day in and day out. But, that often that isn’t good enough.
I’m writing this so that you can see, that the mom with the screaming kicking child on the next aisle over who seems so cool and collected is inwardly dying of embarrassment as you sit there and stare at her (Maybe not just you. But you and the 100 other eyes through out the store) .
I’m writing this so that you know that we are still human. We still breathe the same air you do.
We still long for a pat on the back. A smile, a “You’re a great mom” in spite of our screaming, kicking child….
I got a little carried away I guess. But, I wanted to make the heart of this message clear…..
Precious little humans who are struggling to control emotions that they have no idea what to do with.
With that I am going to list a few things that define a meltdown versus a temper tantrum….
Because as a special needs mom who can’t even walk into a store with my child for longer than a few minutes without her going into a full blown meltdown. Consisting of head punching, things getting thrown from the cart, and screaming…
I’ve heard “You should just keep her home.” Or,” My child throws a fit at dinner” From moms of children going through terrible two’s more times than I can count. And they all mean well. But, this is why you DO NOT know what it’s like. And I hope you never do……
The first thing that I can come up with (These are my opinion as well as other moms who deal with this day in and day out that I’ve put together and not scientific proof) that defines a MELTDOWN from a temper tantrum, is the persons (I say person because it can be a child or an adult) inability to regain control.
No matter what you do to calm this meltdown, it usually continues for longer than 30 minutes and sometimes hours.
For example- Leah at the store last night in the middle of a meltdown started screaming for the phone. Started screaming that she wanted to walk. Started screaming that she wanted a toy. All valid options to try. You hand her the phone, the phone gets tossed and she starts punching her head more violently. You try to let her walk vs sit in the cart, she sets herself in the middle of the grocery store floor and uses the cement floor to head bang……..
Even after we get her out of the store can last hours.
A TEMPER TANTRUM is more easily redirected and calmed.
To calm a temper tantrum you either have to give the child what they want, redirect or discipline.
Because the root of the problem is easy to find.
The second thing is the trigger. When a child goes into a MELTDOWN, the trigger is not always seen, heard or felt by ordinary hands, eyes or ears. Our special children however have very keen senses and are easily overloaded. (Or Overstimulated) Meaning it doesn’t take much.
What triggers one may not trigger another. And it’s not always easy to pinpoint a persons triggers.
When Leah was about 2ish she started going into severe meltdowns (Like described above. But worse self harming and such behaviors) at such random times. We couldn’t figure it out and just assumed that it was just how she was.
Until one day I was tearing some bills up and she again went into a random meltdown. It clicked with me at that moment that almost every other time she’d been in those severe meltdowns she’d been tearing a book up, or someone around her had been doing something like that. So I tested it again. Sure enough. Same response. The sound of tearing paper set her off. An odd trigger to you and I. But a very real trigger to her.
She’s now 5.5 years old and that’s no longer one of her triggers. Pain is one of her triggers.
Our children don’t communicate the best.
And use meltdowns to tell us when something is off with their body. My point is we don’t ever know what is going on.
With a TEMPER TANTRUM the child is usually seeking attention.
Acting out because they didn’t get their way.
We were in the store not too long ago and my 4.5 year old wanted a candy bar. When mom said “no” he started whining and crying begging for a candy bar. That very clearly is a temper tantrum.
Could have been solved by giving in or redirecting or dscipline.
Temper tantrums have a reason.
It’s much easier to pinpoint the cause of temper tantrum.
Thirdly many times our children/Adults do not even understand their own MELTDOWNS.
They can’t help us figure out ways to help them. They can’t put 2+2 together to say that this is making me act out. They are wired different…. (No that doesn’t make them weird)
They are different and different is cool. And often do not outgrow these behaviors. It’s who they are. It’s what makes them special.
Children outgrow temper tantrums. (Well they should anyway. lol) Some of us never did. Haha

How can I help a fellow mom in the store who’s child is having a meltdown?

#1- DO NOT tell her to keep her children at home if she can’t control a meltdown.
#2- Offer to grab a few things off of her list while she handles the meltdown.
#3- DO NOT just stand and stare.
#4- If you can’t help. At least smile at her or say “Good job mama” (It takes just a second)
#5-Offer to stand with the child so the child doesn’t get hurt so that mama can step back and regroup for a second.

How can I help a mama of a special needs child who says they don’t need help?

#1- Make a freezer meal
#2- Give a gift card to a coffee shop
#3- Be a listening ear
#4- Send a card.
#5- Be a secret sister/brother
#6- Just do something to show you are there. It’s a lonely road sometimes.
I know this isn’t detailed. But, I really hope this helps. There are many of my friends on social media who have reached out to me since my last post (About me breaking down and some of what we’ve gone through with Leah.) asking me for tips on how they can better help other moms who go through the same things…….. This is what I can come up with.
But the biggest and most important one that I can come up with is one that we’ve not had ever.
Let them talk.
Let them vent.
And PLEASE realize that at times, these mamas WILL say things they don’t mean. It doesn’t mean they love their children any less. You may not understand. But please don’t judge.
Breanna is a sweet mama to two wonderful children. She blogs over at Conservative Christians Standing Strong.

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