It's important to be able to differentiate between your child having a meltdown and a tantrum. This will make avoiding them as well as dealing with them easier.
Lets begin with understanding what each one means. When your child is having a meltdown there is something out of their hands going on. A meltdown encompasses a physical, mental, or sensory element. Common causes of meltdowns include: hunger, lack of sleep, illness, sensory-overload, lack of energy-outlet. This is often avoidable and should not be reprimanded in the same manner as a tantrum.
A tantrum, on the other hand, is simply behavioral. It's a communication tool that your child is using to get a message across and should not be encouraged.
Here is a simple checklist you can use to help you differentiate which is occurring.
Are they looking for a reaction? NO
Are they trying to communicate something? NO
Are they in control of their behavior? NO
Can the child calm down when distracted? NO
Are they able to calm down after the situation is resolved? NO
Are they looking for a reaction? YES
Are they trying to communicate something? YES
Are they in control of their behavior? YES
Can the child calm down when distracted? YES
Are they able to calm down after the situation is resolved? YES
Because meltdowns are caused by something external, they should not be reprimanded like a tantrum. One must understand that the child is incapable of controlling their emotions, to a certain extent, because of something occurring TO them. These can be avoided by thinking ahead and being aware of your child's needs, schedules, habits, and states of mind. If you know they did not sleep well last night, or know there is a flu running around the daycare... it might not be the best day to take your child to a 4-hour long theatre show. Snacks are also a great way to avoid meltdowns. If you know that your chid's lunchtime has passed and gone and they haven't been fed you should expect a meltdown. On the other hand, when you know you're going to be in a "bad-food situation" such as a being in a supermarket full of cookies and chips or an adult party full of things you don't want them to eat: have a healthy snack for them, so that they have options.
Tantrums should be treated as behavioral reaction that your child has learned and can be changed. For some reason or another a child who has a tantrum has learned that using yelling, crying, hitting, fits, etc. will get them the things they want. The best way to remedy this is to teach the child that the opposite is true. Until they use appropriate communication skills (calm voice, no crying, verbal communication) they will not get what they are asking for. Remove your child from the situation, explain to the them that you understand they are upset and you will be happy to listen to them when they are ready to use calm words to explain what they want. And then you wait for them to do so. DO NOT give in. This is the most important step. The first times will be the hardest and longest, but it will be worth it in the long run. They must learn that only calm verbal communication will get them results.
This blog has some amazing ideas of how to play with foam/shaving cream with your little ones. Benefits of foam-playing: sensory skill development with easy clean-up!!! It's great to play with in the tub or outdoors on a hot day. Some of our favorite games from the blog: crackle foam, puffy sand, and clouds in a jar.
What a fun way to improve fine-motor while working on those sensory skills. "Little Hands, Big Work" has posted this easy game to play with your child at home. Simply fill a bucket or bowl with sand and place the cut-outs of a board game and have your child search for them and then match them to the appropriate piece.
For a bathtub variation of this game you can fill a bucket with bubbles and have them paste it to the tile-walls!!
Here is a creative way to work on those fine motor skills, as well as following directions and compliment giving. You can play this on a doodle-board or on a sheet of paper. Draw something on one side and have your child make a duplicate. Then you can switch it around and have them draw first. In the end, practice giving each other positive feedback on your duplicates. This is a great game to play when waiting around at a doctor's office or anywhere that your child may get bored while waiting.
For more fun ways to use your doodle-board, check out this blog: http://happyhooligans.ca/magna-doodle-activities/
This is a great idea to keep kids busy indoors or outdoors, while working on their matching skills, their abilities to deal with frustration and perseverance, as well math skills. Paint rocks and other objects in different colors and hide them around your house or yard. Your child then has to find the colored items and put them in different piles. You can make the game harder for older kids by drawing numbers instead of colors or even have them add up the numbers to reach 10.
Cut up some plastic cups, put a sliced balloon in the top and add something to shoot (marshmallows, pompoms, paper balls, Legos, etc) This is great for a child's pincer grip as well as hand-eye coordination. Put a bucket on one end of the bathtub during bathtime and make this is great game for them.