035: Tantrum vs. Meltdown: Differences & How to Tame Them

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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One of my biggest pet peeves is when people call a meltdown a tantrum. A tantrum is a fit a child throws to get their way. A meltdown is when your child is stuck and their brain has been sort-of hijacked. A child in a meltdown does not have control of their actions. Listen in to this episode as I discuss the full differences between a tantrum and meltdown and provide insights and strategies to begin to tame them.


Some of the resources may be affiliate links, meaning I receive a commission (at no cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase.

Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP), from Ross Greene, Ph.D. and LivesintheBalance.org

The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene, Ph.D.

What to Expect When Parenting Children with ADHD, by Penny Williams (there's a full chapter on school rights and accommodations)

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I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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About the show...

I'm your host, Penny.

Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

My approach to decoding behavior while honoring neurodiversity and parenting the individual child you have will provide you with the tools to help you understand and transform behavior, reduce your own stress, increase parenting confidence, and create the joyful family life you crave. I am honored to have helped thousands of families worldwide to help their kids feel good so they can do good.

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  • Another question.
    Well after the storm has passed, many people have been hurt by this, emotionally and physically. It's tricky because his brain is flooded and I understand this, but what happens about the punched sister or verbally abused brother? How do you handle the aftermath where several people were hurt in the meltdown?

    • That's a tough one. Despite being behind developmentally, the end goal is that they behave appropriately, knowing it may be a few years later than their peers when they achieve it. Your goal right now should be (1) to try to see meltdowns before they happen or prevent triggers and to remove others from the vicinity whenever possible; and (2) work on changing those behaviors with empathy and compassion. So, rather than a punishment for hitting in that instance, when you know he wasn't in control, wait until he's calm and thinking clearly and talk about what happened and more appropriate choices for next time.

  • I just wanted to say THANK YOU!! I have recently come across your podcast, and I have had so many Aha! moments while listening. This one specifically and I have been through this exact thing (not at a goodwill store lol!) the intesity, the emotion, the cyclical chanting, the throwing himself at me etc. Its heartbreaking. I had my hubby listen to this one too and I found him nodding along to your experience also. I just purchased 2 of your books, and can't wait to dive in. I purchased both of Dr Greene's books as well. <3
    Thank you!

    • I'm so glad that story has helped others! We were so blindsided when that happened, and so grief-stricken when we realized he absolutely had no control. Those meltdowns are heartbreaking. BUT, understanding them, meeting them with compassion and empathy, and working on the causes will reduce the number of meltdowns a great deal. My son is 16 now. It's been so long ago that I can't count since the last full-on meltdown. Years!

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