“If that child were mine it wouldn’t be acting that way right now.” How many of you have heard this or a version of this while your child was in meltdown? It may have been at the grocery store. It may have been at a family reunion or any number of other places.

The problem is that many people don’t understand the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum. As a kid, I remember seeing an example of a tantrum on the old Andy Griffith TV show. Opie wanted to receive his allowance without doing any work and his friend gave him clear instructions on how to throw a tantrum to get his own way. Opie started by holding his breath. This escalated to crying like a baby, which progressed to stomping his feet and finalized with him lying on the floor kicking and yelling. Every parent has seen a version of this in their own home and most kids don’t need a friend to teach them how to do it. They figure it out on their own.

Tantrums are clearly a discipline issue. They are an act of will. The child is trying to manipulate the situation to get his or her own way. This is what the average person thinks is going on when they see a child having a meltdown.

So what is the difference?

A tantrum is typically a tool in the child’s toolbox to get their own way. The child is typically in control when the tantrum starts and knows what they are doing. Tantrums are a behavioral issue and the child needs discipline to learn that behavior isn’t appropriate.

On the other hand, a meltdown is typically a response beyond the control of the child. It is often a response to an environment or a situation. It may be as simple as their milk being spilt on the kitchen table. They might be in complete sensory overload at the mall or they may just be overwhelmed and exhausted. In the case of a meltdown, disciplining the child won’t resolve it and will likely make it worse.

In all honesty, sometimes even as the parent I have a difficult time telling the difference. I can be so close to the situation that I don’t see it. There have been times when I have had to ask Sarah if she thought a certain reaction our son was having was due to his struggles or if it was in fact a behavioral issue. There have also been times when what started out as a behavioral issue had transitioned to a meltdown so I learned to first help him get through the meltdown and then later circle back to the behavioral issue.

I want to close by saying, “Hang in there Mom and Dad.” There is a lot of judging each other in the world around us. You may catch the whisper of the occasional snide remark, causing you to second guess yourself and your ability to parent this wonderful child of yours. The reality is the person that was judging you 30 seconds ago has probably forgotten the experience and is currently judging someone else. Don’t let their negativity breed negativity in you. You’ve got this.