We’ve all witnessed a kid crying and screaming to get something they want. He didn’t get to have a cookie before dinner, she wasn’t allowed to wear flip flops to school, or simply they just want attention. Whether it was your child, the child of a friend or just out at the grocery store, we have all witnessed this little thing called a tantrum. Before I became a parent, it was really easy to judge those parents whose child would throw a fit in public because… one: it’s not my problem, and two: I assumed the parent was just letting their kid be bad. Now, I’m a mom and having a son who has autism has taught me never to assume anything. I don’t know their situation just as they don’t know mine.
So what is the difference between these tantrums many kids throw and sensory meltdowns? Sometimes it’s hard to tell on the surface but the reason behind why they are happening is like night and day. As I stated, tantrums typically happen because the child wants something or they may even just want attention. Many times it’s not even crying but more of a whining sound. But a sensory meltdown occurs when a child is feeling overwhelmed. That’s why the meltdowns happen so often in public. For example, my son feels overwhelmed by large crowds. This does not always translate into a meltdown. In fact, that doesn’t happen often at all. But it does cause him to stim and find ways to overcome feeling overstimulated (i.e. covering his ears, moaning, grinding his teeth)
What I’ve learned is that while there may be some signs that it’s a tantrum and not a meltdown, try not to judge anyway. We don’t know that situation or their struggle. Next time you hear a child crying/screaming out in public, try thinking about how that parent might be feeling. Sure, there are parents who might not be handling things in the most effective way possible, but we don’t know. I was at the store recently with Elijah and when we were at the cash register to pay, he kept saying “No” over and over again. The cashier said to me, “You’re gonna let that boy say no to you like that?” I said (as nicely as possible), “‘No’ is one of the few words he can say, and he typically says it when he’s feeling overwhelmed.” Now, the reason I share this is because I used to just ignore comments like that, and sometimes I still do. But how can I be spreading awareness if I keep quiet when I’m personally facing these situations? Part of being an advocate is speaking up for those who don’t have a voice. My son cannot defend himself so I need to be the one to do it.
Next time you witness a child having a meltdown or tantrum out in public and you see the parent is truly struggling, try going up and saying something simple like “You’re doing a great job.” I know that might seem silly but it could make such a difference to that parent who is doing their best and still being judged by people around them. Simple gestures can make all the difference.
Thanks for reading!