Creative Child

Top 5 Behaviors That Cause Parents to Lose Their Cool: #4 Tantrums

(and How to Fix Them)
by Rebecca Eanes

This is part 2 in my 5-part series of the most troublesome behaviors parents lose their cool over. Last time, I discussed the fifth behavior on the list, back talk. Today, I will cover the fourth most bothersome behavior, tantrums.


Our perception of tantrums, not the tantrums themselves, is really what pushes our buttons. We perceive them as defiance, manipulation, or bratty behavior. The truth is that tantrums , particularly in young children - are simply a child's way of expressing emotions that have become too difficult to handle. Children don't like having tantrums anymore than we like seeing them. If we can change our perception of tantrums from defiance to a call for help, we can approach this behavior in a way that is both helpful to the child and strengthening to the parent-child relationship.

A little research into child development uncovers that children lack self control due to an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that regulates emotion and social behavior. What happens is that your child feels a strong emotion, such as frustration or anger or sadness, and, not knowing what to do with this strong emotion, her brain goes into panic mode known as fight, flight, or freeze. We've all had this happen.


Have you ever been so upset that you yelled or slammed a door? If it's difficult for adults to control their emotions all the time, imagine how much harder it must be for children who are still learning and developing.

Related Article: Handling Tantrums 

Conventional advice is to ignore the child during a tantrum, but this really sends the message that we aren't there for them when they're upset, or worse, that we only accept them and want them around when they show feelings we like. No one wants to be ignored when they feel distressed. We are social beings wired to connect, so connect with the tantruming child. Hold her in your arms while she offloads all those negative emotions.

If you're worried this will "reward" the tantrum, think about a time you were extremely upset and a partner or friend empathized with your upset or held you while you cried. Did it make you want to feel upset again? Of course not. No one likes to feel out of control. Empathizing with children during a tantrum is not rewarding behavior; it's meeting a need, the need for connection and understanding. As a bonus, when we are calm and help them to become calm during these emotional storms, they learn better how to calm themselves.

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