Is Your Child Having a Pain-Related Meltdown? When is a Tantrum is More Than Just a Tantrum?

September 12, 2016

By Lisa  Moreno-Dickinson

We have all been at a store, a doctor’s office, church, almost anywhere and seen a child have a tantrum. Most moms and dads understand and have been there. Most parents have an understanding that there is a cause for the tantrum they’re seeing. Maybe a toy not given, maybe they want to go home.

They might think if that were my kid, I’d have that situation under control. And it’s for those parents who I’m writing for today—the ones who might roll their eyes and judge and whose first thought is that the parent is incompetent and the child is spoiled.

If you happen to walk past a tantrum in progress, you may want to consider reacting in these way:

  • Mind your own business: (If your intentions aren’t to help the situation)The last thing a struggling parent needs is someone pointing or sneering while they try to diffuse the situation.
  • Check to see if the parent needs help: Ask the parent if they need assistance, if they’d like you to entertain the other children for a moment, provide tissues or fetch something for them.
  • Think before you judge: The point of this article is that you really don’t know the whole story. What you might think is a spoiled child having a meltdown, could actually a child with a painful flare up, suffering side-effects of medications, or just trying to process why their body or brain is on overload.


What can cause tantrums?

When a child is tired and cranky—just about any condition can set them off. But when it comes to kids who have rare and genetic diseases, the causes can vary. These children are more prone to medical meltdowns especially those with neurological disorders and inflammation along with pain.

Do we know how to differentiate between a tantrum, seizure, sensory meltdown and pain related meltdown? What does a seizure look like? And do children with epilepsy only get seizures?

To differentiate between a tantrum and a seizure is not as simple as it may seem.

A seizure occurs when there’s abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Seizures may go virtually unnoticed. Or, in severe cases can produce a change or loss of consciousness and involuntary muscle spasms called convulsions.

A tantrum is an outburst when a child is not getting something he or she wants. They can come from not getting the attention they are craving and they are in control of their emotions.

Sensory meltdown is a reaction to feeling overwhelmed. Tantrums can trigger a meltdown especially when the child has too much to process in that moment.

I coined pain related meltdowns to help others understand what happens to the child when the pain gets to be too much. This is also true when dealing with sensory overload. Most kids who have these conditions start with a glass half full and the more activity, noise, good or bad situations happen is like adding more and more water until the water overflows and they can not stop it.

I have witnessed what these look like and speak to parents who are also dealing with the overflow of water. So, what does this look like?

I will add a personal experience I just had with my son who has pain related meltdowns from his condition.

My son gets infusions twice a month of Remicade and although the infusions calm down the inflammation, it is by no means a cure to his disease. He still gets inflamed especially with activity or complete exhaustion from pushing off the pain or from extended durations of the pain itself. He had a wonderful few hours playing outside with friends one day. Watching, it was a bittersweet moment because like most parents who deal with children who have these situations, I know they pay for playing.

That night my son was up all night crying, screaming in pain, and no words can soothe hearing, “Mommy make it stop” and all because he was having fun earlier. So, with the lack of sleep and pain that next morning he had a dentist appointment.

He has been going to this dentist for a long time and never had a problem with him or had any anxiety with procedures. Today, however, he was done, on overload, and the glass of water was spilling over. He got defiant and would not corporate. At first, the doctor was like, “you need to stop this and be a big boy.”

Now, I knew what was about to happen and right before I could pick him up he went into his meltdown where he repeats himself and gets out of control, his eyes get glossy and you can not verbally reach him and when touching him you have to be gentle. I gently picked him up and thankfully this time he wasn’t kicking and hysterical. My oldest is also used to them so he got my keys and purse and we got him out into the car. We use calmness in our actions and when I got him home, I bounced him where he fell asleep for ten min and woke calmer.

I asked about his pain and although we hardly use a scale he said it was 30 out his 1-10. I said, “why aren’t you crying and screaming like at the doctor’s office?” He said, “because it is quieter here.”

Later, talking to the doctor, he said it was like having a seizure. He learned that day that this was not a tantrum it was a pain related meltdown.

I have dealt with these for so long that I can tell when they are coming. They are never easy and not always the same.

So, before you judge a child or the parent you may want to remember this article and show some compassion as well as understanding. No parent who goes through this is a delinquent parent who recklessly gives into a child’s demands. It may just be a parent (or parents) who deals with a child who has triggers from their diseases or conditions.

Here are 5 tips that can help calm the child having one of the pain related meltdowns:

  • Take the child to a quiet place where they feel safe
  • Make sure the noise level is down and use a soft voice
  • Do not grab the child or use any force in getting them to move
  • If a child is still at the age you can soothe them by rocking or patting their back, try bouncing on them in your lap while on an exercise ball
  • Reassure the child that this is a temporary feeling and it was abate

After the incident you should record it in a journal with the following details:

  • What triggered the meltdown?
  • Where were you during it?
  • How long did it last?
  • Were the child’s eyes glossy? Did they seem responsive to your questions?
  • Does the child remember it? How do they recall it happening?
  • Ask the child what helped and what made it worse.

Does your child have pain related meltdowns or other medical-related “tantrums?” what methods do you use to rectify the situation?




The President/Founder Ms. Lisa Moreno-Dickinson coined CAID which umbrellas over 30 diseases from A-typical Blau Syndrome, CRMO, Wegeners, sJIA, Vaculitis, Epilepsy, Mitchondrial Diseases, and Crohns. is the first 501c3 foundation to cover all AutoInflammatory Diseases. Moreno-Dickinson wanted to focus on the mechanism of the disease vs. the name. Lisa is an author, executive producer,recognized by Katie K Active as one of the 5 women nationally to have a positive effect on peoples and is now the pioneer for the #DefineBrave movement, blogger for the Global Genes Project, sits on the board for wish upon a Hero Foundation, and is a Chapter Chair for ALL (All Ladies League) and advocate for  all children.

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