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  • Monique Harding

Become an A-grade tantrum tamer


We know very few things in life for certain. There's birth and death and a lot of uncertainty in between. One thing you can know for sure? Your kid will have tantrums. Many, many, many tantrums. You can be as certain of this as you are that they will eventually grow their two front teeth.


Luckily, sitting here, writing this in 2018 looks very different to how we approached parenting in the 70’s and 80’s. Neuroscience has taught us a hell of a lot in the last couple of decades. We now have physical evidence of what is going on in the brain when we are feeling certain emotions. We can apply these new learnings to parenting and how we interact with our children to get the most effective outcome for all.


Firstly? What exactly is a tantrum? Well, according to Clinical Neurologist and Neuroscientist, Ash Ranpura, there are actually two types of tantrums and identifying these may be key to helping your child to soothe. The first type of tantrum is one that occurs in our higher brain region. These are more present in older children. During these tantrums, your child is aware of their actions. They know what to do to get a response and to get what they want. If you give in during this type, you are making a big mistake. This is your opportunity to set some clear boundaries. An opportunity to re-affirm the hierarchy in the family using crystal clear supportive communication. It could look a little like this…. “Jonny, I can see that you are really frustrated that Mummy wouldn’t buy you the toy, but we are here buying a present for Tom’s birthday this weekend and it is not your turn. If you do not stop yelling, Mummy will have to take away your XBOX time this afternoon.” As hard as it can be, try to take an "emotional coach" role in any follow up interactions. Make it your role to identify the emotion your child is feeling and take a guess at the cause. This will increase their ability to recognise and manage their own emotions in the future.


The second tantrum occurs in the lower brain. It requires a very different approach. Your child is flooded with cortisol at this point and all remnants of reason have packed up and left the building. These occur very regularly with younger children (Hello, terrible 2's!) as they navigate their way through the largest stage of emotional development in their life! This largely occurs because their capacity to communicate their inner world is limited at this age. Meaning, they need a lot of support from the adult caregiver to make sense of what they are feeling.


Responding to the second type will often require quick, secret service like attention. Remove your child from others and stay with them, within visibility but not in their private space. They may benefit from some quiet time to calm down simply with you being present before they are able to engage in any form of conversation. Your main aim at this point is to create a sense of safety and security once again for your child (and sometimes others depending on the intensity!). Older children may want some space apart from you on their own to cool down. Try some music, calming breathing or movement if needed. Getting down to their level physically may help you connect with them more quickly.


Before you jump to any deep meaning making conversations, keep in mind that physiologically, it can take many hours for your child to be calm. They may look fine on face value, but biologically, that cortisol river is still running strong inside their brain. This is why conversations of “Why?” are best left to a few hours after the argument or in some cases, even the next day. Your stance in these follow up conversations should be one of curiosity. This allows you to still get your parental message across whilst learning about your child’s inner world. Remember, there is no unacceptable feelings, only unacceptable behaviour. Our most effective parenting is done when we can separate the two.


- Monique

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