top of page

4 TIPS TO ELIMINATE MELTDOWNS AND TANTRUMS: Sensory Defensiveness and Emotional Dysregulation


Is your usually sweet child or loved one becoming aggressive for no apparent reason? There is a difference between sensory meltdowns and rages. If we can recognize and treat meltdowns, we can eliminate rages. Sensory defensiveness is an oversensitivity to sensory input from any sensory system caused by a lack of inhibition in the nervous system. If sensory information reaches the cortex, it is interpreted there. For example, if a person hears a firecracker and the sound that it can't hurt, and reaches the cortex, it can interpret what it is, that it is far away, and that he can breath and put headphones on in case there is more noise. If there is not enough sub-cortical inhibition, the sympathetic nervous system reacts in a fight(aggression, yelling) flight (hiding) fright (shut-down, dissociated) immediate response.

Sensory defensiveness reacts in the brain the same way emotional trauma does.

Sensitivity to movement causes dizziness and overwhelmed on a merry-go-round, walking, stepping down a curb or a baby being tilted backwards for diaper change. Visual over stimulation can be experienced in what is perceived to be a busy classroom with too much going

on. A child might get dizzy watching everyone move around like you might experience getting dizzy watching a merry-go-round turn. Sensitivity to noise and smell can also be overwhelming. Tactile defensiveness or sensitivity to sand at the beach, labels in clothes, dislike of cuddling, having their face or hair washed, avoidance of messy play, picky eating causes biting and pushing for deep pressure input to calm the nervous system. If a person is also sensitive to smell, sound and movement all coming in at the same time, it sets someone up to be on high alert all the time, frightened of transitions where they don’t know what is coming at them that will overload them. They have a look on their face of fear, yell, rather than readiness to learn or socialize. Children may need previewing of the day and may be dependent on parents longer. It is hard for parents to know how much or little to be involved.

Does your teen accuse you of being over -protective as they draw you in to help, being dependent longer than you’d expect? Do you feel judged by others to be over-involved like a helicopter parent? YOU ARE NOT! I get it.

Adults might get overloaded in an overstimulating work environment and yell at co-workers. These are not tantrums but meltdowns from sensory overload. Sensory triggers and activities mediated by sensory integration like riding a bike, writing, dressing, cleaning a room, holding it together all day, and the need for adaptive responses and flexibility cause sensory meltdowns.

Feelings of inadequacy, imperfection, being stupid, frustration, rage, self-recrimination, poor self-esteem and shame/humiliation cause narcissistic injury and rage at every stage of development.These are tantrums and rages.

If we can help them heal from the emotional toll of powerlessness, firm up their sense of self, diminish their perfectionism and punitive superego or conscience, firm up their acceptance of themself while normalizing their nervous system, we can help them to be ready to engage in learning, socializing, working and have meaningful and successful relationships

A bottom up (OT) approach to normalize the nervous system so a person is comfortable in their own skin and modulate input coming in, and a top down approach, play therapy and talk therapy with a psychoanalyst who is trained at structuring the mind and who will also create behavior charts that will help parents to help them build their ego strength makes all the difference in the world.


Go to a psychoanalyst to help you understand your child’s issues. Your child needs a therapist who can play and talk about the feelings of narcissistic injury that can cause re-traumatization throughout development to prevent and work through depression, anxiety, or other more serious personality issues. Behavior charts are aimed at developing self-esteem. I have a specific protocol.

Call me! I can definitely help! (914) 632-7111


Go to an OT

Provide your child or yourself with a custom made sensory diet best.

General sensory diet suggestions:

Deep pressure activities like:

  • Wilbarger therapeutic brushing and joint compression

  • lie your child on the bed and put a pillow over his back and press down firmly

  • Wall push-ups

  • throw stress ball

  • play with theraputty or modeling clay

  • Therapeutic wrestling

  • Combine linear up and down movement or front to back movement with deep pressure like rocking in a rocking chair with a weighted vest or weighted blanket.

  • carry heavy objects, wear a backpack, use weighted toys or blankets

  • if sensory registration problem, put feet in a foot massager or fill it with beans and keep feet in while listening to therapeutic listening. Wear a weighted vest.

  • Deep breathing


bottom of page