Tantrums & Meltdowns

Join us for our regular monthly webinars on the first Thursday on most months at 8pm (Melbourne time).  Sign up at the bottom of the page for updates.

In this webinar...

Bobbi Cook shares strategies for managing tantrums and meltdowns and shutdowns and you will learn:

  • How to clearly define the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown and a shutdown

  • Have access to a range of responses to escalating behaviours to interrupt escalation cycles leading to Meltdowns and Shutdowns

  • Have 3 strategies or concepts you feel comfortable to experiment with

  • Be able to describe the role anxiety plays in a meltdown

  • Understand the Impact of ‘theory of mind’  impairments of meltdowns

Intrinsic differences between a tantrum and a meltdown

  • Both very different

  • Clear defining features

  • Different purposes

  • Can begin as one and morph into  the other



  • Want directed not need directed

  • Externalised behaviour

  • Goal driven

  • Audience to perform

  • Check  for engagement

  • Protective factors are in place

  • Age appropriate 1-5 years and then reducing as language and problem solving skills improve

  • A form of communication

  • Resolves quickly without support if goal or desire meet

  • Will require support for relationship repair and restitution

Meltdowns & Shutdowns

  • Internalized and externalized

  • Over stressed and overwhelmed

  • Whole of body experience

  • Lack of protective factor

  • Anxiety as antecedent

  • Fatigue

  • Not goal dependent

  • About real or perceived need

  • A form of communication

  • May require support to gain regulation

  • Requires deliberate recovery process and re-engagement

  • Will require support for relationship repair and restitution

Three Stages of Meltdowns & Shutdowns

  1. Rumbling 

  2. Rage

  3. Recovery

Rumbling (child)

  • Fidgeting

  • Swearing

  • Making noises

  • Ripping paper

  • Grimacing

  • Refusing to cooperate

  • Rapid and jerky movements

  • Tears

  • Tensing muscles

  • Name calling

  • Increasing/decreasing volume

  • Verbal threats

  • Foot tapping

  • Pacing

  • Rocking

  • Covering ears or eyes

Rumbling - Adult Response

  • Remain calm

  • Use a quiet voice

  • Drop an octave

  • Slow your voice down to about half speed

  • Take deep breaths - deliberately

  • Prevent power struggle

  • Be flexible

  • Offer an option – walk, doona, location change

During the Meltdown, children can be:

  • Disinhibited

  • Impulsive

  • Emotional

  • Explosive

  • Destroying property

  • Self injury

  • Screaming

  • Biting

  • Hitting

  • Kicking

  • Internalised behaviours

Meltdown and Shutdown Interventions

  • Protect individual, property, self  and others

  • Do not try to discipline

  • Remove audience

  • Be non confrontational

  • Disengage emotionally

  • Plan a graceful and face saving exit

  • Follow a plan

  • Obtain assistance

  • Prompt to safe place

  • Use few words

  • Prevent power struggles

Meltdown Adult Response

  • Control own flight/fight tendency

  • Remember less is more

  • Remain calm and quiet

  • Don’t take behaviours personally

  • Disengage emotionally

  • Be conscious of non-verbal cues

  • Take deep breaths

  • Wiggle toes inside shoes


Recovery takes at least 30 minutes, and can take a day. If it takes a really long time for the child to recover, you may need to see a pediatrician regarding their hormones.

  • Sleeping

  • May deny meltdown behaviours

  • May reject property and personal damage

  • Withdraw into fantasy

  • Withdrawal from others

  • Act like nothing has happening

  • Be very chatty and silly

  • Apologizing

  • Fragile

  • Hungry / thirsty

Child Recovery Interventions

  • Allow to sleep/ rest

  • Relaxation techniques- when ready

  • Don’t refer to meltdown behaviour

  • Direct to next activity- do not give more than a binary choice

  • Don’t make excessive demands

  • Support with structure

  • Plan recovery conversation but not yet

  • Give food and drink- protein

Adult Recovery Interventions

  • Remain calm and quiet

  • Tag out as soon as you

  • Restore relationship with child

  • Eat and drink

  • Debrief

  • Write incident report or journal the incident so you can recall detail for pediatrician, etc.


  • Often we say there is no trigger

  • There is always a trigger, and often a layering triggers

  • We need to be detectives

  • Find the trigger

  • Some common triggers include: pace, noise, changes in routine, chaos, stressful situations, strangers, relief teachers

Theory of Mind

Theory of Mind is the ability to imagine what someone else might be feeling and moderating your behaviour in response


 and the ability to predict and interpret others behaviour.

  • Unable to imagine how someone else feels

  • Unable to experience empathy

  • Assumption you don’t know how they feel until they make you experience it

  • Often laugh with relief and leave you or another child in a puddle on the floor

As result of a not having a developed theory of mind, children will have difficulty:

  • Predicting

  • Reading intentions

  • Understanding emotions

  • Explaining own behavior

  • Perspective or reference

  • Reading and reacting to others’ interests

  • Understanding social interactions

Anxiety & Meltdowns

  • Anticipatory anxiety and delayed anxiety

  • Disrespect, arguing, surliness, 

  • Sensory responses

  • Demand avoidance 

  • School refusal

  • Intense, intractable special interests

  • IT addiction and obsession and resultant meltdowns

  • Asthma, eczema and food intolerances and allergies

  • Self harm, picking at skin or nails

  • Trichotillomania

  • Selective mutism

  • Phobias

Webinar Slides

Download the slides from the webinar.

Download PDF of Slides

Audio Only

Listen to the audio recording of the webinar.

Download Audio Now

Watch Webinar Replay