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Meltdown or tantrum?

I must say, I had never heard of the word “meltdown” until I started working with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I suppose that was almost ten years ago. At that time I heard it strictly used to describe the uncontrollable acting out brought on by massive frustration at not being able to communicate with and/or understand the world around them.

These days I hear the word “meltdown” used quite often in connection with outbursts from Neurotypical children. defines a meltdown as:
: an accident in which the core of a nuclear reactor melts and releases radiation
: a very fast collapse or failure
: a very fast loss of emotional self-control

Are these Neurotypical children truly having meltdowns or has meltdown now become the new term for tantrum, but since it’s a “meltdown” it’s okay? defines a tantrum as:
: a fit of bad temper
: an uncontrolled expression of childish anger
: an angry outburst by a child or by someone who is behaving like a child
*They list synonyms as: blowup, explosion, fireworks, fit, hissy ,hissy fit, huff, scene
Nowhere does it say a tantrum is a meltdown.

I suppose I am a little touchy on this topic, as I have seen meltdowns in progress and the person truly needs assistance to get back under control. Sometimes they even exhibit certain signs that tip us off that this person is nearing the point of no return. Once they cross that, “I’m extremely frustrated” line, they truly cannot get back on their own. If they won’t accept assistance, the meltdown needs to run its course and all the observer can do is make sure the person is safe. No, a meltdown and a tantrum are not the same.

Apparently, I thought this an interesting topic earlier in the year, as I shared an article about it…
The difference between a meltdown and a tantrum

Let me leave you with this one thought. If your child is having a tantrum, (I am trying to manipulate the situation to my desired outcome) call it a tantrum. Don’t justify their behavior by calling it a (I truly have no control over my behavior right now) meltdown.

Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

*Pam Horton is a certified Parenting Coach in the Raleigh area.*

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