This post was written by Valeria, an Occupational Therapist who has spent the last three months with us from Argentina. It’s been great to have her insights and she’ll be missed here at the OTFC group! 

Defining meltdowns and challenging behaviours

Have you ever been out shopping and your child started crying, screaming or just run away suddenly? Is attending a birthday party with your child a source of anxiety? Does your child’s behaviour change rapidly in new environments?

Sometimes there are changes in the environment, too many things to think about or too much information to process and children’s reactions to this is feeling overwhelmed: it’s like everything is beyond their control. It’s really important to discriminate the difference between tantrums and meltdowns.  Tantrums appear when children are looking for a certain response and it will end when they get what they want.  Meltdowns can be caused by unfamiliar places, people or different sensory inputs (e.g. light, smells, noises) that can’t be controlled by the individual and usually only end through fatigue or if something in the surroundings becomes different.

Is there anything to do before/ in advance?

It is highly recommended to explain things beforehand to your child so as to help them being prepared to changes in their usual routines. Try to talk your child and figure out what triggers make them upset and if if there is anything that they can identify as calming and that can be used to sooth them down.

Looking for red flags. Having in mind how your child might react to different situations and if there is any behavioral change that you can address as a “sign of alarm” or something identifiable as overwhelming (e.g. signs of anxiety, communication difficulties) so that you can try to remove or minimize any potential triggers before the meltdown actually occurs.

Different strategies during meltdowns

Every person has their own sensory profile, which means, a specific way of processing the sensory information of the environment with the possibility of being over-stimulated, under-stimulated or in a combination of both. Let’s point out some tips for this:

  • Movement: go for a walk, lay under a heavy mat, running and crushing on a mat, jumping on a mini-tramp, skipping, swinging, pillow wars, exercise, or proprioception activities as e.g. Sausage Roll
  • Tactile: sand, shaving cream, paint, fidget toys, teddy bears.
  • Auditory: use headphones and settle in a calm and quiet space and turn on the some quiet music (ideally that the child has already shown an interest in).
  • Oral and visual: blowing bubbles or whistles, chewing straws or chewing gum, drink something warm; eyes closed, lights off or dimmed, windows and curtains closed.

Final comments

There is no specific guidelines that you can use when managing meltdowns or when it comes to events going on with your child and managing not only the unpredictability of their behaviour but also the responses of others to it. The aim of this post is only to give some information and tips that we think can be helpful, but every child is different so do what works for yours and feel free to share any of your own strategies!


Baker, J.; Stock Kranowitz, C. (2008). No more meltdowns: positive strategies for dealing with and preventing out-of-control behavior.

National Autistic Society website

Ryan, S. (2010) ‘Meltdowns’, surveillance and managing emotions; going out with children with autism.

De Gavronsky, Valeria – OTFC


More reading

Related Posts

Dysgraphia Blog Header

Dysgraphia – How to help your child

Dysgraphia – The learning disability that affects writing skills. Dysgraphia is a term that was previously used to describe and categorise a learning disability that