Ever wake up and have your kid refuse to get out of their pajamas, yell at you, then slam their bedroom door? What a great way to start the day! So, let’s be real – keeping your cool when kids “blow up” is hard! 😳
These temper tantrums are blood boiling, gut wrenching, pull-your-hair-out type events that are a natural part of child development. Understanding a bit more about the “why” of your child’s behavior and “how” to approach them can go a long way in helping keep your cool and avoid the addition of gray hairs to your head.
Causes of children’s emotional outbursts
Temper tantrums in children can be caused by a variety of factors, often stemming from the child’s internal and external environments. Here are some common triggers:
- Frustration: Younger children, especially toddlers, have limited language skills and might not be able to express their needs or emotions effectively. This can lead to frustration which they express through tantrums.
- Need for Attention: Children may throw tantrums as a way to get attention from parents or caregivers, even if it is negative attention.
- Tiredness or Hunger: When children are tired or hungry, their ability to manage emotions can decrease significantly, making them more prone to outbursts.
- Overstimulation: Being in an environment with too much noise, activity, or stimuli can result in sensory overload and trigger a tantrum.
- Inability to Deal with “No”: Young children are learning about limits and may not understand or like it when they can’t get what they want, whether it’s a toy or a food item.
- Routine Changes: Children thrive on routine and predictability. Changes to their normal schedule, such as skipping a nap or changing bedtime, can cause them to feel unsettled and act out.
- Emotional Stress: Family issues, school problems, or changes such as moving to a new home, or the arrival of a new sibling can create emotional stress that leads to a child’s tantrums.
- Learning Independence: As children grow, they seek more independence. Tantrums can be a way of asserting themselves when they feel controlled or powerless.
- Imitation: Sometimes children imitate aggressive behaviors they see in other children or even adults, as a learned strategy for coping with challenges.
- Underlying Health Issues: Occasionally, tantrums may be a sign of underlying health issues such as sensory processing difficulties, developmental delays, or autism.
- Lack of Skills: Children might not yet have the necessary skills to handle difficult situations or tasks, which can lead to frustration and tantrums.
Understanding the root cause of a child’s tantrum is crucial for addressing the behavior effectively. It’s also important for caregivers to respond with patience, consistency, and compassion, helping children learn to cope with their negative emotions in a healthy way.
How our responses amplify the situation
When our kids experience strong emotions, they trigger an equally large response in their guardians around them. And when we find ourselves overwhelmed by this, unfortunately our brain is not in its prime form for decision making. Our brain might immediately jump to the tantrum behavior and prompt us to respond with, “Don’t slam that door” or “What did you say to me?” As opposed to what we would like to say, which might be something like, “Honey, I wonder what’s making you so upset.”
So what can we do?
Truth is meeting strong emotions with strong emotions unfortunately does not diffuse, but often escalates the challenging behavior that started things in the first place. The fact is, when kids find themselves in this head space, they often have an inability to calm themselves down, thus reassurance is what they need (even though it’s ironically the last thing we might want to provide). Here’s a few tips on how to handle these challenging moments:
- Calm yourself down
- When you feel triggered and anger boils up. Stop and pause.
- Take a few deep breaths or focus your energy on something else.
- Name it – You can say something like, “I feel myself getting upset. Can I have a minute to calm down?”
- Remind yourself, my child is “X” years old, I am an adult and need to help them regulate, not contribute to the fighting.
- Calm your kid down
- Physically reconnect – Get on their level, make eye contact, hug them, put your hand on their chest, help them breathe. Find a strategy that can work for both of you and bring the relationship back to the forefront.
- Validate their feelings – Acknowledge their emotional reaction so as not to dismiss them and further ignite the situation.
- Try a breathing exercise with them. One that is very effective is pretending to “smell a flower” for a nice big deep breath in, then blowing out a candle for a big breath out. 😮
- Address the issue
- Peel the onion – Try to get to the root of the issue and problem solve. This only works when we are both calm so make sure to follow steps one and two before getting here. Ask questions and remain curious. You could ask something like: “You must be really upset to be talking to me like this… want to tell me what’s going on?” “What do you need and how can I help?”
- Correct behavior
- There is an important distinction – feelings are okay, but not all behaviors are. If there was harm done, address it and fix it. You could say something like: “It’s okay to be angry and use our words to express that, but we do not break things.” and you might want to follow up with “What do you think you can do instead next time?”
Scuffles, disputes, and blow ups are never fun, but with these 3 steps you will be on your way to handle the next one like a boss.
*If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health, request an appointment with one of our professional mental health providers at Diversus Health today. If you need immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.