Tantrums. They’re one of the most talked about behaviors in the parenting world. They’re even one of the top behaviors that cause parents to lose their cool with their kids. No doubt, tantrums give parents a hard time. The truth is, though, that during a tantrum, your child is having a hard time. Tantrums aren’t always a matter of defiance, especially in young children. There’s a logical, scientific, brain-based reason why your child is throwing a fit, and armed with this knowledge, you can handle tantrums more effectively.
As parents, we are usually given these 2 pieces of advice about tantrums.
We are told that if we engage with a child in any way during a tantrum, we are basically reinforcing the bad behavior. We believe if we ignore it, the behavior will stop, and because we are led to believe that a tantruming child is a manipulative child, we know we must never, at any cost, give in to their demands.
Unfortunately, this advice has us only looking at the behavior, not at the often-hurting child behind it. It drives us to push away our children rather than bringing them closer and offering comfort in times of need. Tantrums are a strong emotional reaction to a stimulus. When the information coming in trips an alarm and gets sent to our more primitive limbic system rather than our cortex (the higher brain which houses logic and reasoning), a tantrum can result. It actually takes a lot of maturity and self-control to not tantrum, because when that alarm gets tripped, our bodies get flooded with hormones that make us want to fight or run.
Yes, sometimes kids have tantrums just to get their way. Tina Bryson, PhD calls this an upstairs tantrum. The child is in control (not acting from the lower brain), and pitching a fit to try and get her way. This is embarrassingly similar to our parental tantrums, isn't it? "My kid won't do anything I say until I start screaming!" So, we pitch a fit to get our kid to act. Then, we get really mad when our kid pitches a fit to get us to act.
But the truth is that doesn't mean that you are manipulative or mean or bad. It doesn't mean your kid is either. It simply means that, at that particular moment, both of you are out of resources. You have no idea how to get your need met in that moment other than to tantrum.
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