There is much confusion among people about the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown. No specific widely accepted definition exists, but one way of looking at is that a tantrum is controlled and controllable. A tantrum has a purpose, usually to try to get one’s way. People having tantrums can be reasoned with, and tantrums can be resolved.
Meltdowns, by contrast, are a reaction to some stressor, are usually not controllable, and the person having a meltdown cannot be reasoned with until the meltdown draws to a close pretty much on its own.
If a person can reason while having an emotional outburst, it is likely they are having a tantrum, and not a meltdown, and it would be wise for that person to immediately review their behavior, their reason for it, and how to control it.
But if meltdowns cannot be controlled, what can a person having the meltdown do?
While the answer to that problem is probably “nothing,” a person can become more adept at sensing when a meltdown is about to occur. If the individual can do this, it may be possible to either avoid the meltdown, or else have it somewhere where the consequences will not be as severe if observed by other people.
These are some of the steps that have been shared with MIC to manage meltdowns. These suggestions are intended to make stressful (and possibly loud and explosive) situation into productive educative moments. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, and so not all of these suggestions will work for any one person. That being said, however, readers and visitors may find some of these suggestions helpful either for themselves or for someone they care to help through meltdowns.
- Go to another room or exit the situation. Leaving the situation creates a buffer zone between the involved person(s) and the situation.
- Remove yourself from the area completely. Go for a walk outside. Head off to a local coffee shop or store. Grab your camera and hike in a local park. Whatever it is that you like doing outside of the location where the conflict is taking place, do it.
- Reaffirm for yourself that meltdowns are a temporary situation, and not a permanent one. Just because it you’ve experienced a meltdown doesn’t mean that “everything” is ruined. People can be very understanding once they realize that you are putting effort into addressing what led up to the meltdown.
- Forgive yourself once you’re able to reset yourself. Meltdowns happen sometimes, and they’re not a behavioral problem like temper tantrums. Know the difference between a temper tantrum that can be controlled and a meltdown that cannot.
- Analyze the issue and talk it out with yourself (quietly or in your head!) or write it down in point form. The chances are that the meltdown is being caused by a surface issue. Track down the root of that surface issue.
- When the root issue is discovered, address it. Contemplate what you need to do to change it. Ask a trusted adult — your employer, a parent or other family member, your best friend, a counsellor – for insights so you can build modifications into your thinking.
- Keep a diary to document meltdowns, what led up to each of them, what happened during each of them, and what was the turning point that led to the meltdown. Check for patterns or recurring triggers. This will help you to put safeguards in place for future situations where those patterns or triggers may re-appear.
- If it’s a practical problem (for instance, a light bulb buzzing non-stop), change the situation yourself rather than allow the problem to aggravate you to the point of a meltdown. For example, if the tags in your clothes irritate you, leaving more apt to react negatively to other stimulus, simply snip all of the tags off your clothes!
If you have any tips that work for you or someone you care about as it pertains to meltdowns, we’d love to hear from you in the Comments Section below. And feel free to share this article with others on various social media platforms.
Article researched, compiled and written by MIC volunteers, Elyse Bruce, Thomas D. Taylor, and Greg Trutner