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July 18, 2019

Don’t Let Tantrums Ruin Your Summer Fun

Don’t Let Tantrums Ruin Your Summer Fun

By: Dr. Sara Kopple, Pediatrician


As a pediatrician and a mother of two young children, I have found tantrums one of the biggest day-to-day parenting challenges.Tantrums can be even more challenging and frequent during the summer because of day-long outings, summer heat and lack of routine. That’s why I’ve created a toolbox to help myself cope with them.

It’s very hard to remain patient, when your little one starts screaming about something that may seem nonsensical to you. But as adults, our job is to is to stay in emotional adulthood instead of letting our children’s mood affect us.

What do I mean by this?  Our brains have a little part of them called the amygdala that controls our fears and reactivity.  Back in the day when danger in the form of lions and tigers lurked, our brain needed a very reactive amygdala to survive.  Today, we thankfully don’t encounter that same sort of danger on a daily basis, but our brains are still set up to respond quickly to perceived threats.   For those of us adults with a very reactive amygdala (ahem….me) we run the risk of responding to our kids’ crying the way we would have when facing a lion in the wild.

By practicing mindfulness in those moments, we can train our grownup brains to stay a little calmer, so that we aren’t yelling and screaming right back at our toddler. Here are a few tips that I’m working on which I think will help you too!

1)      Start with awareness:  When your child is screaming, pause and assess if you have also started to throw your very own adult temper tantrum.  Awareness can be the first step towards calming the reactivity of your nervous system so that each tantrum doesn’t feel quite as big and dramatic. Ask yourself, who is throwing a tantrum here?  The answer should only be your child.

2)      Listen to your children, and be present:   One of my favorite parenting books is the 70s classic by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. The main piece of advice from this book is that everyone wants to be heard and have their emotions acknowledged, even young children. It’s important to know that sometimes a simple moment of empathy can halt a tantrum in its tracks.

Example, “Oh, you wanted the Superman cup when I gave you the Batman cup? That must feel frustrating”.

I’m not saying you should give your child everything they want, but sometimes hearing them out can help, even if you then need to explain that the Superman cup is actually in the dishwasher.

3)      Help your older children practice mindfulness:  As our kids get older many parents have a false assumption that tantrums are a passing phase. As I mentioned earlier, adults throw tantrums, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that school aged kids and teenagers have their moments too.

As children get older, we can walk them through mindfulness practices so that they can learn self-control.  In the moment, sometimes the amygdala is too flared up and “take a deep breath” can just escalate the problem more. However, a mindfulness practice can help prevent future tantrums. Examples of a mindfulness practices include deep breathing, coloring your feelings or having your child find shapes in the clouds. It’s about being present and noticing things around you. As a parent, just remember tantrums come at all ages, and it doesn’t mean there is anything going wrong.

4)      Remember that this moment will pass:  Part of staying mindful during a tantrum is knowing that at some point it will end. It may not always feel like it, but your child will not throw a tantrum for the rest of their life, they will escalate and eventually come back down…and so will you. Sometimes you need to ride the wave with your child, before calm can be established again.

Occasionally, some medical problems can be the source of behavioral outbursts. If you have concerns about your child’s behavior, make sure to book an appointment and address it with your child’s pediatrician.