What to Do When Meltdowns and Tantrums are Trying Your Patience

In the heat of the moment, you’re probably not worried about using the correct term. But, for the record, tantrums and meltdowns are two different events. Both episodes will try your patience and perhaps embarrass you in a public setting. Managing them, however, is also very different. Therefore, step one in this process is recognizing which one was happening. Even better, it is identifying potential triggers before the meltdown or tantrum explodes.

With that in mind, let’s define the two situations and then look into some useful strategies for navigating this volatile scenario. As frustrating as they can be, both events can be managed.

Tantrum vs. Meltdown

Before going into specifics, there is one main difference. Your child has some control over a tantrum. The extreme meltdown occurs once they have lost control. This massive distinction is crucial when dealing with your child’s behavior.


This is an outburst designed to get something. Things are going their way, so the child lashes out. However, they usually can modulate the tantrum based on how others are responding to it. How often have you caught your kid stop — mid-tantrum — to check if their performance is being properly noticed?

Tantrums usually end when the child:

  • Gets what they want
  • Realizes it’s not working


This is not a performance. It’s a full body-and-mind reaction to something — usually a sense of being overwhelmed. When exposed to an abundance of sensory information, children sometimes cannot process it all. Their fight-or-flight response is triggered and they, well… meltdown.

Taming a Tantrum

Before Things Go Too Far

  • Praise non-tantrum behavior: Whenever your child deals with adversity without an outburst, let them know how positive this is.
  • Learn your child’s triggers: Pay close attention. Get better at nipping tantrums in the bud.
  • Agree on a signal: If the child is old enough to do so, have them alert you to their frustration. Help them become part of the solution.

Once the Tantrum Has Started

  • Identify the cause: Tantrums can appear to be pretty random. Rapidly discern the trigger.
  • Acknowledge their feelings: Soothe your child by validating their experiences and emotions.
  • Ignore it: In certain settings, this can be ideal. Allow them to blow off steam without showing them that tantrums will work to get their way.

Managing a Meltdown

Once a meltdown has begun, it will have to run its course. Thus, your initial task is to remove your child from the overwhelming source of the meltdown. A meltdown will end when your child runs out of energy. This will happen sooner if they are relocated to a calmer venue.

Before Things Get Too Far

Know their triggers. Once again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take the meltdowns and your child seriously. Become an expert on what can set them off. Do your best to avoid such triggers.

Once the Tantrum Has Started

  • Make sure they and others trend them are safe: It will look like an emergency so make sure it isn’t.
  • Reduce strong input: When you’re child is melting down, it can help to turn down the lights and reduce incoming sound.
  • Model calm behavior: Let your child feed off of your calm energy. Do not contribute to an escalation of emotions.

Taking Care of YOU in Lakewood & Longmont CO

A lot of the above has you staying calm when your patience is frayed. When do you get a break? Counseling can be an ideal way to work through your feelings as a parent. You can create your own coping mechanisms while learning to negotiate the unpredictable emotions of your child.  Please read more about parent coaching and let’s connect soon for a free consultation.