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Meltdown or Temper Tantrum?

In my ignorance as a mom with a young special needs son, I made many mistakes when it came to discipline. When he would cry, scream or act out, I would wonder whether it was related to his special needs or if he was just rebellious. There was no internet to run to in those days!

Now that I'm older and wiser I can clearly see the differences. I sure couldn't then. I hope my past mistakes will be a rich well of information to help you!

Meltdowns are often of a sensory nature. If your child has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) like my son did at that time, your child will give you clear and predictable signs that a meltdown is on its way if you don't stop and change your course.

The signs are labeled "rumblings" and are quite predictable. They are the first level of anxiety. Your child may say "I want to leave." They may put their hands over their ears or eyes. They may start to pace or talk faster or slower than normal. They may start "stimming" (self-calming) like rocking, pacing or finger flicking.(

The difference between a meltdown and a tantrum is that the latter is controllable and manipulative. They scream and cry until they get what they want. As I suggested on last week's video, start signing to your child in the throws of a tantrum. It works wonders!

One of the main mistakes I made while my child was in the tantrum phase is I would eventually give in out of complete exhaustion. My reward would be many more tantrums in the future. They are so smart! They have more energy than we do! They can outlast us. So it can become a mental game as well. You must determine that no matter what, you will not give in.

Another cause of meltdowns is based in the fear response that God built into our bodies for our protection. A child with anxiety issues will slip into the fear mode on a regular basis. Once they are into the fear mode, their bodies will respond with either running, fighting or freezing.

"In times of anxiety and stress, the sympathetic part of your Autonomic Nervous System produces cortisol hormones and triggers a "flight or fight" response." (, May 15, 2018.) Kids with SPD are unable to regulate the over-stimulation from their environment and they will perceive the input as threats.

It is important to note that a sensory meltdown is a physiological response and is not controlled behavioral reaction. When the brain kicks into the fear mode, a natural physical reaction is coming next.

Whether it's a meltdown or a fear experience, if you know the symptoms and have a plan, you can then be proactive, instead of reactive. Here are some of the symptoms you can expect to see:

  • Crying inconsolably

  • Covering eyes, ears and tucking in legs

  • Curling up in the fetal position

  • Running

  • Kicking, biting, screaming, spitting, throwing things

If a meltdown is occurring, get your child out of that environment. Talk in a soothing and reassuring voice. Stay calm. Bring them back into a familiar environment. Do no talk to them except for what is absolutely necessary.

To avoid future meltdowns, become a great detective and figure out what happened prior to the meltdown. Some other helpful ideas are: clearly communicate with your child face to face, give your child space and time for an upcoming change in activity, stick to a routine. (, "Tantrums in Special Needs Kids")

One of the best things you can do for yourself is join a support group. Our church has one for the moms as well as Sunday morning church for the kids. We are dealing with unbelievable stress raising these very special kids. We need to hear from each other "Great job, mom! Don't lose hope. With knowledge comes a better way of rearing your child. Hang in there!"

Thanks for visiting me at I look forward to seeing you next week!

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