How to Get Through to Kids Who Like Throwing Tantrums
We’ve all been in situations where we’re going about our day, and then all of a sudden, your child decides that the supermarket is the best place to have a wild crying fit. It can be extremely frustrating and (quite frankly) troubling when our kids throw temper tantrums, especially in public.
Say your child has a habit of throwing random temper tantrums at the most inconvenient of times and or places, and what do you do then? Tantrums can be exhausting for parents to figure out, and this article is going to cover some of the ways you can get them under control for good.
Temper tantrums can be extremely embarrassing as they can draw a whole lot of unwanted attention and judgment from others. It makes a parent feel like they’re out of their depth with their child, which can be unsettling.
Thankfully, your child will likely grow out of throwing temper tantrums around the ages of 3-6, and in the meantime, there are plenty of tips and tricks (which we’ll cover) to help you curb their bad behavior.
So, how do we get through to a child who throws tantrums? Temper tantrums are an indication of underdeveloped emotional intelligence. Let your child experience their emotions and then teach them a better way of managing them.
Do not try to mask or disregard their feelings.
You can teach children to identify what they are feeling and why, then provide them with better ways of managing their emotions. Give them the opportunity to identify what behavior is a most appropriate and work on your skills to demonstrate emotional maturity to your child.
Set an example. If something upsets or frustrates you, say so. Then use your own response to demonstrate more productive ways of dealing with annoyances to your child.
So, how do you help your child who’s throwing temper tantrums? Teach your child how to regulate their emotions and help them learn how to control their thought processes.
It helps to teach your child to look for positive aspects in any situation and give them positive reinforcement. We’re not going to lie to you; this can be especially tricky when they are yelling or otherwise causing a scene.
If your child decides they want to challenge you by worsening their behavior or manipulate you, as hard as it is, let them cry. Let them make a fool of themselves or remove them from the situation. This will remind them that you are in charge, and you won’t respond to emotional manipulation.
What are Real Temper Tantrums?
When people think of temper tantrums, they think of children who deliberately create drama to get what they want. These are the kids that will thrash around on the floor like trapped ferrets until a disgruntled or emotionally worn-down parent has no choice but to give them what they want. This article isn’t really addressing these kids. Instead, it’s looking at the behavior of children who struggle to handle their emotions.
A big reason why children start having temper tantrums is that they don’t have the correct skillset to deal with negative emotions. Children need to develop their emotional maturity. They must learn how to deal with their temper. Sometimes your child’s feelings are all over the place because your child is tired or hungry.
A young child needs stability. They are vulnerable, and they need that stability to fall back on. If the child is emotionally unstable, they can suffer. If that child goes into a situation that they do not recognize or a part of their day that is not routine, they began to go into “fight or flight” mode.
A response to this is crying. Now crying isn’t a way to attack, but it attention-grabbing, and it tugs at every mother’s heartstrings for miles around when they hear such a sound.
As a parent, walking your child through an emotional cooldown and talking to is one of the most important things a parent can do for their child. It establishes trust, security, and comfort for the child to know that their parent(s) are there to help them.
What’s Really Going On When Your Child Has a Temper Tantrum
A child who is falling apart is not always like the ones who are deliberately disruptive to get their way. Sometimes the child doesn’t know how to deal with a situation and this causes them to freeze up. They are struggling to see how they can even make it through this experience which causes overwhelming feelings of distress. This is known by psychologists as “amygdala hijacking.”
Amygdala* hijacking was a term first used by psychologist Daniel Goleman. Goleman believed that despite our rapid evolution as a species, deep in our subconscious minds (or id according to Freud) we still have a “fight or flight” instinct. That term is prevalent, and many people know it, because must of us know how it feels to be frightened or panicked.
*The Amygdala is connected to both the fear and pleasure circuits in our brains. In humans, the amygdalae perform primary roles in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events (Source). Shown to play a key role in the processing of emotions, the amygdala forms part of the limbic system.
The amygdala often gets a bad rep, with conditions such as anxiety, autism, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias suspected of being linked with it. However recent data suggests that the amygdala is linked to other processes such as determining what a stimulus is and what the organism should therefore do (Source).
Why mention this?
Because we’re going to teach our temper-tantrum loving children to consciously identify what makes them upset and help them find more constructive ways of dealing with their emotions.
We help our children tremendously when we teach them that they have the power to separate themselves from their fears. They are then free to choose the thoughts that are most beneficial to them.
Teaching Kids How to Manage their “Fight or Flight” Instincts
Emotional intelligence is the secret to mastering control over our fight or flight responses. A child who has developed emotional intelligence is far less likely to have frequent emotional outbursts. Do you want to help your child realize that they don’t need to be afraid of new situations? Emotional intelligence is the key.
Teaching a child emotional intelligence is instrumental in raising emotionally healthy, happy adults. There are a couple of things we want to touch on about the experiences that may help when it comes to coping with amygdala hijacking.
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Managing “Fight or Flight” with Mindfulness Techniques
Before you do anything, you need to determine how emotionally intelligent you are. Be honest with yourself. If you are not willing to learn how to cope with your demons, how are you going to be able to help your child deal with theirs? Practice empathy and compassion as you will need to validate your child’s emotions as you would validate your own.
For example, it’s perfectly normal to be slightly nervous before you walk into a room full of strangers. What might need addressing is if you get so anxious before walking into a room full of people, it becomes debilitating.
Over time you learn coping mechanisms such as positive visualization that help you deal with your anxiety. You may never be 100% anxiety-free when walking into a room full of strangers, but you acknowledge that your fears are separate from your consciousness and therefore don’t have to have control over your life.
Keep an open line of communication between you and your child. “I know that you are feeling overwhelmed right now and I would feel that way too. So let’s talk about it, maybe we could find a few tricks that will make you feel less scared.” Don’t try to tell your child that they are imagining things or that their feelings don’t matter.
One great thing you can do with your son or daughter is to take them aside to practice deep breathing and mindfulness techniques. Teach them how to analyze a moment by focusing on their breath. Doing this will not only help to calm your child in the moment, but also, over time, it will help your child have a better sense of reality.
Along with this idea is that you can sit with them and teach how they can identify the emotions and problems that they are having. Teach them to get to the root of what the problem is and how they can resolve it. This is also a great distraction from the uncomfortable physical sensations associated “fight or flight.”
Sometimes temper tantrums are an indication that your child is overwhelmed and needs some time by themselves in a comfortable and familar space. Allow them at that time to analyze, calm down and recharge.
Once your child has calmed down talk to them about what happened. Ask them what emotions they felt. Where they angry or scared? Did they feel trapped? Did someone upset them? Walk through what happened and talk about how both of you can fix the problem in the future.
You know your child better than anyone, and you are the best person to teach your child about how to get to know themselves. Let’s move on to developing emotional maturity through positive thinking.
Our Emotions Are Trying to Tell Us Something
There is this idea out there that emotional maturity means never feeling sad or upset. Emotional maturity does not mean that you’re always smiling. On the contrary, emotional intelligence encourages us to embrace whatever it is we feel as it tells us what we think about a current situation and how best to go forward. We need all feelings to learn and grow.
Teach your children that all emotions are excellent, and they have their place. There are no bad emotions. Each emotion has its place. Anger and disgust can help us avoid situations that don’t align with our core values. Sadness can give us time to reflect on our lives, process our losses, and what we are doing. Teach your children that there are no “bad” emotions.
Teaching Emotional Maturity to Kids
The first step in emotional maturity is understanding and accepting emotions for what they are. An excellent resource for this is the Feelings Wheel created by Dr. Gloria Willcox. According to the Feeling Wheel, there are 46 human emotions in total stemming from the base four emotions, Happiness, Fear, Sadness, and Anger.
One way you can teach your child to understand emotion is by verbally acknowledging your child’s feelings. For example, when your child is angry, you could say, “You look unhappy.” This will prompt them to take a look at how they are feeling at that moment. Don’t just tell your child how they should think, act, and feel. Instead, ask them questions such as how they would resolve the situation.
Validate your child’s perspective and thoughts. Be honest and empathize where you can. Build trust with your child. You are the first person they want to talk to when they are scared. Allow your child to express themselves. Do not shut them down.
Listen to what your child is saying to you and validate their feelings. You want them to be comfortable with you and trust you with their emotions. When your child is having an emotional wobble, they need you to talk about their problems.
Next, you want to help your child to notice the emotions of others and ask questions about why they are acting like that and how they could help. Observe what your child and other people are feeling, and comment on it in a nonjudgmental, accepting way. This helps your child develop empathy.
Research from Psychology Today supports this theory. It was found that when parents read a book about emotions or talk about how other children feel, their child’s positive social actions increase (Source). Teaching your child to detect the feelings of others will significantly increase their emotional maturity.
We’re all born with the ability to sense how other people are feeling, and it isn’t easy to hide your emotions from your child. This is why you must have emotional maturity.
The Three Signs of Emotional Maturity
Below are three strong indications that your child’s emotional development is advancing. Understand that praising your child for this type of behavior is going to make them far more prepared for the challenges that come with life.
1 | They Accept That Life Has Challenges
Sometimes life hands you lemons. You can’t avoid it. When something goes wrong is your child’s life, how do they react? If they meet the challenge and make it through and own it, they are gaining emotional maturity. If they blame somebody else or something else, they are stilling learning how to overcome their emotional shortcomings.
2 | Emotionally Developed Kids Hold Themselves Accountable
Similarly, if you notice your child doesn’t act like their world is falling apart when things go wrong, then they are growing emotionally.
Many people grow up thinking they are the victim when, in reality, they make poor choices. Teaching children to own their choices can curb this mentality real quick.
Teach your children not to be victims by holding them accountable. Being accountable will also make them happier and more accomplished. These are the kinds of people who will make a difference in this world.
3 | Emotionally Developed Kids Are Good With People
If your child builds strong, productive relationships, that is an indication of healthy emotional maturity. If a child doesn’t hold friendship well, it may be that they tantrums handle other people well. They probably haven’t learned to understand the emotions of others, which you can teach them to notice.
In a relationship, emotionally developed kids can compromise. They work together to find solutions that benefit both sides. These kids desire to find a win-win solution. If you notice this behavior in your child, this is an excellent sign of emotional maturity!
At Never the Right Word, our aim is to give you practical examples of how to handle life’s difficult conversations. If you have an awkward situation that you’d like example templates for, request a topic here.
Lastly, if you found this content helpful or want to share your own examples, let us know in the comments. We’d also be delighted if you shared this article and joined us on social media too!
Never the Right Word
Hi there! I’m Amy, and I’m the person behind Never the Right Word. I’m a designer-by-day who’s fascinated by human psychology; you’ll find me learning about what makes others tick through all types of media and good old-fashioned conversation.
In 2019 Never the Right Word was born to fill the gap of ‘how-to’ websites with copy and paste examples showing you EXACTLY what you need to say to steer difficult conversations into positive outcomes.
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