The Art of Managing Meltdowns and Tantrums

Meltdowns and tantrums are a normal part of growing up. All children have them. Contrary to what your friends or your interfering aunt may say, they certainly don’t mean that you are a bad parent or that your baby or toddler has problems. They are related to your child’s unique sensory temperament and developing brain, which means that some babies and toddlers are more inclined to have these emotional outburst than others.

If your baby hasn’t had one yet, don’t think “It will never happen”. I promise you that it will! And that’s not a bad thing. Having an emotional outburst while you are young, with a mom or dad or aunt or grandparent around who is able to help you find ways to make sense of all that emotions and guide your behaviour, is a wonderful opportunity for brain development and learning.

It’s important to understand that there is a difference between meltdowns and tantrums.

Once you understand this, then you can practise ways of managing it correctly. The result is your baby learning a very important (if not the most important) life skill.

First there’s the meltdowns

The peak age for meltdowns is eighteen to twenty-four months. Some have it earlier and for others it continues throughout toddlerhood. And don’t forget that adolescents and even us as adults can have the occasional meltdown.

Big feelings like frustration, anger, disappointment and fear overwhelms little underdeveloped brains. It causes the primitive emotional part of the brain to be in the driving seat. And the thinking part of your baby’s brain is shutting off. The result is a hissy fit over something as apparently silly as having to share a favourite toy, having play interrupted, having to get into the car, having to put on a jersey or teeth brushed. Thinking being switched off also results in poor impulse control – making it difficult for a little kiddo to wait. If they want something they want it NOW!

But there’s hope. Between three and four years, with your toddler’s improved language skills, he is learning impulse control, his frustration tolerance is increasing and, owing to a more developed thinking brain, the frequency and intensity of his meltdowns will decrease.

Then there’s the tantrums

For some toddlers, however, the increase in the ability to use the thinking brain may lead to more deliberate and calculated behaviour. And this results in the nasty old tantrum. Caused by the desire to control and manipulate. If your toddler sees that they work then they will increase. He will learn that he is able to manipulate you in order to get what he wants.

The secret lies in walking closer or walking away

A baby or toddler having a meltdown needs someone who will move closer, give them a hug, talk softly and help find ways to calm down. Walking closer will help your baby or toddler feel safe and understood. With time she will learn to manage big feelings without falling apart.

A baby or toddler having a tantrum need someone who can set the boundaries, give choices for expected behaviour and then walk away. Walking away tells your toddler that her manipulative behaviour will not cause you to give in.

meltdowns & tantrums

Lizanne du Plessis is the author of Raising Happy Children. She is an experienced occupational therapist with a special interest in the identification and treatment of children with sensory processing disorder. She presents training and workshops for parents, teachers and professionals and contributes to professional publications and magazines. Lizanne feels passionate about empowering parents and her work has enabled thousands of parents and professionals to discover and understand their child’s true nature, support their development, manage daily challenges and build strong relationships. Visit Lizanne’s blog at www.lizanneduplessis.com to read more as she continues her quest of raising happy kids and being a joyful parent, follow her speaking schedule and join in the conversation with other intentional parents.