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 meltdown a full “computer shut down and restart”. This can happen for lots of 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 self safe



  • 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




Tara is a Specialist Paediatric Occupational Therapist, currently based in London. She has extensive experience working with children who have individual, additional and complex needs. She has a detailed understanding of early intervention, autism and sensory processing, as well as the importance of meaningful occupation. She enjoys working in a multi display team and would like to complete a Masters in Paediatrics in the future.

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