Parents: What is the difference between a melt down and a tantrum?

What is the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum?


This is a tricky question! Every child has tantrums – it is actually an important part of typical development.

Children with disabilities can sometimes have meltdowns; a full “computer shut down and restart”. This can happen for many reasons that can be sensory-, communication- or emotionally-based. The reasons will be different for each child.

It can be tricky to work out what types of behaviours are “tantrum” and which are “meltdown” based.


  • Child is usually telling you what they want e.g. “I want an ice cream”.
  • Child will stop crying/hitting/screaming when they get what they want.
  • Child looks and checks you are watching them.
  • behaviour Child keeps themselves safe during.


  • Child is not communicating at all e.g. no words, pointing etc.
  • Child does not stop when problem is fixed.
  • Child does not check that you are watching them e.g. they are in their own world.
  • Child may not be concerned by their safety e.g. head banging.
  • Child only stops when they have “calmed down” or “worn themselves out”.


  • Hitting, screaming, biting, crying, kicking.

Check out at Behavior Page here and our blog post on looking after yourself as a parent here

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