How to Calm a Sensory Meltdown

We can help you calm your child's sensory meltdown.

Tantrums and sensory meltdowns are not the same and it’s hard to differentiate between the two of them when it comes to kids. It’s important to understand the reasons for tantrums and meltdowns and learn how you can control these issues. Both can look similar when your child is having an episode, and kids who have problems with sensory issues and don’t have self-control, are in for a meltdown. It’s important that you understand the difference between the two of them so you can respond to the issue correctly for the sake of your child.


A tantrum is an episode that a child has when they can’t get what they want. Kids with learning and attention problems tend to have tantrums more than meltdowns. Some of these kids are impulsive and can’t control their emotions very well, so they become angry and irritating to get their way.

Kids will have tantrums even if they can’t go along with you to the store. Some get mad and have a tantrum if you aren’t paying enough attention to them. These kids tend to cry, strikeout and they have to understand that tantrums are not an appropriate way to get attention. They feel this is a good way to control their behavior.

Some kids stop when they have a tantrum to make sure you are noticing them. If you are watching them, they may start up again. The only way they stop the tantrum is when they get what they want or they realize they are not going to get anything.


Feeling overwhelmed is the reaction for the child to have a meltdown. Some kids have too much sensory information going on around them and they have trouble processing it. Places that have lots of people like a mall or an amusement park can set these kids off to have a meltdown. For other kids, it could be sensory overload which is too much on their minds. Shopping malls for clothes for school can trigger some kids and adults as well and they can have meltdowns from too many people in these places.

A sensory meltdown simply put is like having a flood in your brain from either too much noise or too many different choices of clothes and colors if you are shopping with your child. Once the child has a meltdown, some specialists think that the fight or flight syndrome kicks in. The child starts yelling and lashing out because of too much input or might even start running away.


The causes of both tantrums and meltdowns are very different. There are some ideas and different strategies that parents can use to help control their children. Kids are looking for a different response in tantrum vs meltdown so it’s important to remember that this is the key to figuring out what is bothering your child. Tantrums usually are a way for kids to get what they want so they carry on with outbursts until you give in or take them back to the car where they can sit for a while and think about it. Meltdowns are usually beyond the control of the child and are basically caused by too much noise and too much information that is being processed too quickly.

Most kids know how to turn off the tantrums if they get what they want. You can also reward your child for behaving in the store or at a friend’s house and give them something when you get home. A meltdown is different and doesn’t stop even if you think the child wants something. The child really doesn’t understand what they want.

Meltdowns can end by either the child is suffering from exhaustion or the child is completely worn out from the meltdown. If there is a change in the input of sensory perception, the child will feel less overwhelmed. A good example is to take your child outside and away from all the people and noise and the child will start to calm down. There are ways to handle both tantrums and meltdowns in different ways.

Don’t give in to tantrums

Make sure your child knows that you are on to their tantrum games and tell your child that you know they just want your attention. Tell the child to wait their turn and help them understand that their behavior is more acceptable when they work with you and not against you. You can tell them when they stop this behavior, you will be ready to listen.

Managing a meltdown

Take your child to a quiet place even if the only place is your car. Your child is already familiar with your car and feels safe there. Be calm and don’t talk too much and let your child regain their composure. The main goal is to cut the sensory input from attacking their thought processes.

It’s very important to understand the differences between meltdowns and tantrums so you understand how to help your child manage these situations. Maybe you can find out from your child what it is that is so overwhelming for them to have these meltdowns. If the child is more sensitive to noise and light, maybe you can help solve the problem with your child and ask them what would help them cope and not be so overwhelmed. It’s important to remember that tantrums happen when your child wants your attention. They may want something and you are not going to respond to their behavior so you have to set boundaries with the tantrums. Eventually, kids will grow out of these as they become teens because they don’t want to draw negative attention to themselves. Meltdowns, on the other hand, happen when your child is overwhelmed by their feelings and surroundings. This is a big difference from a tantrum because you will have to be ready to come up with a solution and remove your child from the overload on their sensory input. In addition, it’s important to know the difference between the meltdowns and tantrums because this will help you and your child manage the outbursts by having a better understanding of the differences between tantrums and meltdowns. You will also have a better understanding of your child.