Temper tantrums are typically associated with toddlers, when young children haven’t yet learned how to verbalize their feelings. As the child learns how to self-regulate and express themselves better, these unplanned outbursts tend to happen less frequently.
But for some kids, temper tantrums continue to happen well into the elementary school years. In many cases, the older child has difficulty controlling their impulses and hasn’t yet developed adequate skills to manage their emotions.
While the experience can be unsettling, there are steps you can take as a parent to help your child manage their feelings without having to resort to a tantrum. Find out how parents can reduce and help minimize tantrums and what to do during and after these distressing episodes.
What Are Temper Tantrums?
Temper tantrums are unplanned emotional outbursts that occur in response to unmet needs and desires. They can be physical, verbal, or both. A normal part of a child’s development, tantrums happen most frequently between ages one and four, averaging up to one a day.1 They typically last between two and 15 minutes.
Temper tantrums may include the following:
- Throwing objects
- Tensing the body or going limp
- Holding the breath
Why Tantrums Happen
When a child doesn’t get their way, they may express their frustration by having a tantrum. In young children, tantrums are a result of being overwhelmed by their emotions and unsure how to verbalize their feelings. They can also occur when children are tired, hungry, or uncomfortable.
In older children, impulse control and/or anxiety can contribute. Tantrums may also be connected to ADHD, autism, and sensory processing disorders. Each of these conditions is related to executive dysfunction, which makes it more difficult to manage one's emotions and cope with stress effectively.2
Tantrums may also happen in children if they’ve learned that this is an effective way to get what they want. Oftentimes, parents just want the tantrum to end, especially if it’s happening in a public place, so they give in to their child’s demands to keep them quiet. While the tantrum may end, this approach is not nearly as effective as parents think, because now the child knows what to do the next time they want something.
Taming Tantrums at Any Age
Despite their challenges, tantrums are great opportunities for parents to teach their children how to cope with strong feelings more productively. According to Becky A. Bailey, Ph.D., author of Managing Emotional Mayhem, the best way to effectively teach children emotional regulation is when they’re already upset because “those brain pathways need to be activated before you can change them.”3
When it comes to taming tantrums at different ages and stages of development, it’s crucial that you identify the most likely triggers:
- Toddlers: Triggers are still pretty basic at this age, and may include hunger, thirst, discomfort, tiredness, and boredom. Overstimulation can also trigger a tantrum at this age.
- Ages three to five: Unexpected changes can be distressing at this age where predictability is preferred. A burgeoning sense of independence coupled with the need to still be helped can also lead to frustration. Jealousy, especially around siblings, may also start to emerge at this age.
- Ages six to seven: As their social lives start to become more complex, children at this age may struggle with how they fit into the group. Comparing themselves to others can lead to strong feelings of inadequacy, potentially leading to a tantrum. And while they’ve become more independent, they still need help and guidance from parents, which can lead to a tense head-to-head on limits.
- Ages eight and up: Still focused on their social lives, kids who feel embarrassed or singled out in public can express their overwhelm with a tantrum, which might just look like a yelling match with parents. Stress and anxiety about schoolwork can also cause children to blow up or lead to a pattern of avoidance.
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How Parents Can Reduce and Avoid Tantrums
Because of the sudden and unplanned nature of tantrums, it’s not always possible to avoid them, especially in younger children. But in older children, learning to identify the specific triggers that tend to set your child off is crucial. Using tantrums to teach emotional regulation skills can also help a child cultivate an emotional toolkit of their own to use the next time they feel triggered.
Finally, one of the best ways to reduce tantrums and help your child learn how to manage their emotions is to model these skills yourself. The next time you find yourself losing your temper, think of ways to calm yourself down, whether that involves deep breathing, taking it out on a punching bag, or going for a walk.
What to do During & After Temper Tantrums
Some parents choose to ignore tantrums altogether, hoping they’ll resolve on their own. But doing so only relinquishes the teaching opportunity that a tantrum provides. If you do choose not to engage, it’s important that your child knows you are available to help them when they calm down. Staying nearby can reinforce this message and help your child feel supported.
The next time your child has a tantrum, try the following tips to help them regain composure and learn from the experience.
Provide a Calm Space
Instead of telling your child to push down uncomfortable feelings, try providing a safer outlet for them to let these emotions out. This is especially important if your child’s tantrums tend to get physical or destructive as they may be in danger of hurting themselves, hurting others, or hurting their home! Maybe their safe space is a table full of comforting objects or a tent pitched in their room where they can sit quietly and cool down. The better you get at detecting the early signs of a tantrum, you may be able to suggest the calm space before they reach a breaking point. Just remember not to force them to go to the calm place because that will only feel like a punishment.
Keep Your Cool
You may be tempted to meet your child’s tantrum with a tantrum of your own by yelling back or slamming doors, but this will only amp up the intensity. Instead, model how to calm yourself down in their presence so they can see how you handle your rising stress in a safer and more productive manner.
Don’t Ignore That it Happened
During a tantrum, your priority should be to calm flaring emotions and help your child self-regulate. You should not attempt to talk it out and strategize until after the tantrum is over. Instead of leaving it in the past, wait until your child is calm to address what happened with empathy and a willingness to help.
When to Bring in a Professional
If your older child repeatedly exhibits destructive behavior, shows no progress in trying to self-regulate, or if their tantrums have emerged seemingly out of nowhere, you may want to seek professional help. There may be a bigger problem that needs to be addressed.
It’s also important that you monitor your responses. It can be overwhelming to deal with tantrums and if you find it increasingly difficult to remain calm during these episodes, it may be wise to let someone else step in.
Just remember that tantrums, even in older kids, are normal and typically not a cause for concern. With your support, as your child matures, they will learn to better communicate and cope with stress, even as these stressors become more complex.
To help reduce this stress or symptoms like impulsivity and anxiety which may be contributing to tantrums, consider using Brillia. A non-prescription homeopathic medication free from harsh, synthetic chemicals and harmful side effects, Brillia helps children feel calmer, more focused, and mentally balanced using a unique holistic approach.
Brillia may help reduce tantrums in children by:
- Reducing triggering symptoms: Brillia’s active ingredient consists of antibodies to the brain-specific S100 protein (S100B), which regulates many different intracellular and extracellular brain processes. Through this targeted approach, Brillia helps to reduce feelings of impulsivity, hyperactivity, irritability, and anxiety by stopping the instigation of symptoms at their very source. This is achieved without affecting any other systems in the body, inducing drowsiness, or masking the personality in any way.
- Working in tandem with the 5 Pillars: Brillia’s effectiveness relies on leading a healthy lifestyle. The medication’s success is maximized by following a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, reducing screen time, and practicing mindfulness. This comprehensive approach helps to reduce the likelihood and intensity of tantrums while also providing children with coping skills they’ll use throughout their lives.