You’re halfway through your grocery list when suddenly you see it happening. Balled fists, explosive screams and tear-filled eyes—your child is having a tantrum. This seemingly unhinged surge of emotion is pouring out of your child and there’s no stopping in sight, so you quickly gather them up and leave the store to at least save the rest of the public from your child’s inexplicable wrath. The day had started so calmly and the tantrum came out of the blue, so what exactly happened?
Tantrums are one mystery ELEOS Psychology Center is ready to help you solve. While tantrums can often leave parents feeling blindsided, our therapists are here to help your child (and you) find their calm. Through a compassionate and trusting relationship, we get to the root of the problem and create a plan specific to your family’s needs. Temper tantrums might seem like just another part of growing up, but the truth is that we can help you endure fewer of them as your child ages. While many tantrums are triggered by intense unregulated emotions, some are the result of an undiscovered cause. By learning effective parenting strategies and practicing calming skills, childhood can be (almost) tantrum-free.
What Causes Temper Tantrums?
As an adult, you may often feel a burst of anger as a response to an adverse event. An especially tough day at work, a commute that’s taking too long, or an unfavorable life event could have you feeling tense and angry—ready to “burst” any second. As an adult, you are mostly capable of controlling your emotions, and you know how and when is most appropriate to express them. Children, in contrast, seemingly have no filter for when to let their anger or frustration be known. Sometimes tantrums are triggered by the smallest events or even nothing at all. And while you might point a finger at yourself, science has shown that the parent isn’t always to blame.
Untimely and disruptive meltdowns are no one’s idea of a good time. Mild to severe tantrums happen when children simply can’t regulate themselves anymore. Triggered mostly by anger or anxiety, parents might not even see what’s about to cause a tantrum in the first place. What’s more is that children might not even sense their own tantrums coming on either. The culprit of many meltdowns and tantrums is unseen and sits right behind a child’s eyebrows.
The prefrontal cortex is the department of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and controlling things like social behavior. It’s also in charge of developing language and memory, which explains what this part of the brain is preoccupied with instead of regulating emotions early in life. Unfortunately for parents everywhere, it is the last part of the brain to develop and only even starts maturing when your child turns 4 years old. This means the first four years of life are spent having little control over emotions and how (or where) they’re expressed.
Furthermore, young children aren’t at a stage where they’re thinking logically. They’re afraid that monsters are lurking in closets, grandpa is really pulling large objects from their ears, and if you leave the room, you will never come back. This means common and harmless situations to adults put a child’s mind in a stressful place that could turn into a tantrum at a moment’s notice.
This isn’t to say that parenting style doesn’t play a role in temper tantrums. Parents are still a part of a child’s behavioral patterns and development. By taking the time to observe both the parent’s and child’s behavior, our experienced and empathetic therapists will be able to help teach the necessary skills that will aid in behavioral development. Together we will get to the root of a child’s temper tantrums. While tantrums and totally inconsolable meltdowns might seem to come from nowhere at times, it’s important to determine if a child is suffering from another underlying and undiagnosed problem such as anxiety, depression, ADHD or autism. By understanding a greater cause of tantrums, we can create the best path possible for all.
How to Calm Down a Child Having a Tantrum
While we can help reduce their frequency or severity, temper tantrums are still going to rear their ugly head from time to time. You might often feel like there is nothing you can do to console your child in the thick of it, and you might be tempted to do anything to get it to stop. Here are four things you can do to help calm your child down and get through the tantrum unscathed.
1. Avoid the Need to Give in to Requests
When a tantrum is on the horizon, prepare yourself to stay strong. As much as you love your child, avoid giving into their requests, especially if they’re using a tantrum as a bargaining chip. Some tantrums may be triggered by a need for attention or being denied a toy they’ve become fixated with on your shopping trip. If you make it a habit to shower your child with attention and gifts as a result of their tantrum, they’ll soon learn it’s what they need to do to get what they want.
Instead, briefly reflect their words and acknowledge their feelings and explain that you’ll talk to them about it when they are calm. Telling them you’ll talk to them once they’ve calmed down will help them to both regulate their emotions and learn that you won’t be giving in to requests any time soon.
2. Stay Calm and Collected
When your child is lashing out, yelling or name calling, it could be tempting to give them a taste of their own medicine. The important part is remembering that your child is most likely not in a place where they can regulate their emotions in the middle of a tantrum. They won’t remember the hurtful things they’ve said even 10 minutes after the event, while you might feel remorse for a long time after if you decide to retaliate. You are the adult with the fully mature prefrontal cortex—remember that.
Staying collected while your child acts out will create a calm environment, which may lower their heart rate and reaction to perceived stress. Talking in a quiet voice could help soothe your child and help them come back down from an emotional outburst, while choosing to yell back will only escalate and prolong a tantrum.
3. Know Your Child’s Limits
Be in tune with your child and you may be able to prevent a tantrum from taking off. NO matter how many errands you still have to run or tasks you still have at hand, knowing when your child has had enough of being toted around could stop a tantrum in its tracks. If your child has faced a lot of stimulation or stress for the day, even a quick run into the grocery store could spell disaster, especially if your child indulged in sugary foods or avoided their afternoon nap for the day. Your child might not be able to tell you they’re tired, they’re hungry or they’ve had enough with words, but they will be able to tell you when frustration turns into a tantrum.
4. Go to a Quiet Space and Let the Child Regain Control
If you suspect a tantrum is the result of a stressful situation or too much stimulation, getting to a calm, quiet area could be your answer to helping your child cool down. Once a perceived threat, or even the item they were fixated on, is out of the picture, they could soon forget about it and be back to their normal, happy self in a matter of minutes.
Temper Tantrums Don’t Have to Be a Way of Life
If temper tantrums have become an expected event during your family outings, or if they regularly last more than a couple minutes, it’s time to seek help. If you live in Minneapolis or surrounding suburbs, ELEOS Psychology Center is your path to a quieter, calmer tomorrow. Our Twin Cities therapists specialize in child therapy, and we always strive to teach both children and their parents the right skills to get through tough situations.
By learning and implementing the right calming strategies, you can better help you child during a tantrum no matter what the cause is—stress, anger, anxiety, ADHD or another underlying cause. We won’t ever give you a one-size-fits-all solution, as we know that the root of a problem and the appropriate therapy changes from person to person. Let us help you find the cause of frequent tantrums while helping your family find its calm. Send us a message or call ELEOS Psychology Center today for help taming your child’s tantrums.