Last Updated on September 1, 2023 by Lori Pace
Tantrums and meltdowns can be a major challenge in parenting. These are difficult to recognize, prevent and respond to when they occur. They can be a problem for both the child and the adult who suffer from them. So, why do kids may be melting down or have tantrums?
Tantrums Vs. Meltdowns
Although tantrums are often distinguished from meltdowns in many people’s minds, it is not a clinical term. “Tantrum” often refers to milder outbursts during which the child retains some control. Parents often use the rule that a tantrum will subside if nobody is watching. This is in contrast to a meltdown where a child loses control and the behavior stops once he is tired or the parent can calm him down.
Tantrums can be mild or severe and indicate that a child struggles with emotions she cannot control. Of all emotions, anger is the most common. Anger is the No. 1 emotion that causes children to lose their heads and explode–you can think of it as road rage for kids. The child believes he/she is entitled or required to do something. He/She is frustrated by his/her inequalities and feels like he/she is being unfairly denied. Anxiety is another trigger. It causes children to panic and override logic.
Underlying Causes Of Kids Melting Down
There are many reasons why children may not develop emotional regulation as part of their normal development. There is no tantrum disorder or meltdown disorder. Tantrums or meltdowns can be triggered by many different things, so we don’t know how to stop them until we find out what causes them. Sometimes, an underlying problem can cause inability to control emotions. Common causes of frequent meltdowns include:
ADHD can cause an inability to focus, inability to finish work, boredom, or other problems. You must get to the root cause.
Anxiety Leading To Kids Melting Down
Even if a child doesn’t have an anxiety disorder, it is possible for them to be hyper reactive to situations. Especially the situations cause anxiety and stressed so they melt down. This may be the case for children who aren’t diagnosed with learning disabilities, or have been exposed to trauma or neglect.
If your child is acting out in school and homework, it could be a sign that he may have an undiagnosed learning disorder. He may have trouble understanding math and become frustrated or irritable because of it. He may choose to rip up an assignment, or create something with another child in order to distract from the real problem.
Depression And Irritability
A subset of children who are prone to temper tantrums and have frequent and severe mood swings also suffer from irritability and depression. Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) is a new disorder that affects children who experience severe temper tantrums and chronic severe irritability. Children who are extremely irritable are similar to water at 90 degrees, which is always on the brink of boiling. Besides, these kids’ parents are constantly walking on eggshells as they react to subtle things like the slightest thing going their way.
Autism Can Cause Melting Down In Kids
Autism spectrum children are often susceptible to violent meltdowns. These children are often rigid and dependent on a consistent routine for emotional comfort. Any unexpected change can cause them to explode. They may not have the communication and language skills to express their needs or desires.
Sensory Processing Issues
These are common in autistic teens and children, as well as those with ADHD. They can cause sensory processing difficulties, which can lead to inconsolable meltdowns and over stimulation.
Skills That May Be Lacking
No matter what the trigger, mental health professionals agree that children who experience frequent emotional outbursts lack certain skills that could help them deal with situations that can cause frustration, anxiety, or anger. These skills include:
- Impulse control
- Problem solving
- Refrain from gratification
- Adults need to be able to communicate their wishes and needs
- Understanding what is appropriate and expected in a particular situation
A Vicious Cycle Of Kids Melting Down
A lot of tantrum behavior parents perceive as manipulative or intentional is actually much less voluntary than they realize. However, this does not mean that it isn’t learned behavior. Children with severe temper problems may not be consciously planning to throw tantrums. However, they might have learned from adults that tantrums can get results.
A child who encounters a problem and doesn’t know how to solve it may resort to tantrums in an attempt to get what he wants. Instead of learning and practicing adaptive skills that children normally use to solve problems together, these kids learn maladaptive responses when they are frustrated. They are able to strengthen these skills over time by practicing them and using them in more situations.
Primary Responsibility Are Still The Parents Of Why Kids May Be Melting Down
No matter the reason, clinicians emphasize that outburst management begins with understanding the triggers. They also suggest ways to change the environment to lessen the frequency of outbursts. Parents are the first to adapt to a child’s environment.
Parents are not blamed for throwing tantrums because parents are only one part of a child’s behavior patterns. However, parent behavior can be adjusted so it is the best tool we have to help young children.