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Monday, May 19, 2014

Avoiding and handling tantrums

A meltdown, a tantrum…whatever you call it, there is hardly a child who hasn’t had one. The AskUs team recently received a call from a woman who has a special needs child who “lost it” during a church service. Needless to say, the Mom felt embarrassed and the child later felt ashamed and upset. Since her son is older (age 8) than the age of kids who typically have tantrums, the church goers were not as accommodating about the tantrum as they might have been if it were a toddler. But, then again, this kind of behavior is common for this child, as it is related to his medical condition.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a Mom who was not bothered by the whines, cries, screams or inappropriate behavior of her child when he has lost control. Meltdowns in public are even more upsetting – when all the world witnesses your child as he is out of control. And it feels like children with special needs have more than their fair share of meltdowns.

What can you do to prevent a meltdown?

First, be sure that there is no medical reason for the meltdown. Check with your child’s doctor to see if a delay or specific health condition may be the root cause of the tantrum. For example, does your child have a speech or language delay that causes frustration in communication (which then leads to a tantrum for lack of being able to express himself)?  Are there medical or health issues that could trigger a tantrum due to anxiety, frustration or even pain? Speak with your child’s doc to get a better idea of what can set him off.

Know your child’s triggers – here are some common ones:

•    Changes in routine – especially sudden ones, and transitions between activities.

•    Hunger or low blood sugar – Most children need to eat some healthy food, especially protein, every 2 hours to prevent a drop in blood sugar.

•    Going to a place that triggers scary or bad memories – For example, some kids find going to a carnival or circus to be scary. If seeing a clown, balloons, face painting, or other scene provokes anxiety in your child, stay away or be prepared. Other kids with special needs are super sensitive to certain sounds, so noise makers, sirens, or other noises may be overwhelming.

The more you know the triggers for a meltdown, the better you will be at preventing one or minimizing it once it starts.

What else can you do?

•    Know your child’s limits – If one hour out in a public place is about all your child can handle without needing to re-charge his batteries, then try not to push that limit.

•    Act quickly to stop a meltdown before it escalates. Carry your child’s self-soothing items, (food, a blanket, a favorite stuffed animal) to help calm the storm before it starts or gets out of control. Sometimes diverting attention is enough to prevent the approaching storm from raging.

•    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has more info on understanding, preventing and handling tantrums.

What helps your child avoid meltdowns? What do you do to minimize them? Please share your thoughts so parents can learn from each other.

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” in the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). We welcome your comments and input. If you have questions, please send them to


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