Temper Tantrums: Teachable Moments in Disguise

My husband and I were recently reminiscing about a particularly memorable temper tantrum our child had in public years ago. It’s easy to smile about that experience now, but at the time, it wasn’t pleasant. Although temper tantrums are a normal part of childhood, they can be an overwhelming experience for parents, full of anxiety, frustration, and embarrassment.

So why do children have temper tantrums? Simply put, a tantrum is a child’s reaction to a rush of emotion, and generally speaking, young children just aren’t equipped yet with the regulatory tools necessary to handle all that emotion at once. The result can often come in the form of kicking, screaming, crying, etc. According to Dr. Todd Kashdan and Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener, leading researchers in the study of emotion, having and experiencing feelings, even those that are often considered negative or uncomfortable, are fundamental aspects of our human experience and are necessary for our personal growth and development. This is especially true for children as they learn to navigate the complexities of life.

As parents, we regularly watch for teachable moments. Those moments in our child’s day to day life when we encourage the learning and practice of necessary skills and values such as good manners, sharing, empathy, or honesty. And believe it or not, temper tantrums are important teachable moments as well. These teachable moments, disguised as kicking and screaming, provide parents with the opportunity to teach their child how to effectively regulate and manage his or her own emotions. It is important to remember, however, that there’s not a “one size fits all” approach to turning a temper tantrum into a teachable moment. Children in the same family may require very different approaches when a tantrum strikes. And in the moment, when emotions are high, parental missteps can, and probably will happen.

Here are a few examples:

• Being too flexible. Children like to have choices, but too many choices can lead to disappointment and the inevitable rush of emotion when a child is told “no”.
• Disregarding transitions. Children often have difficulty transitioning from one event or activity to another, and without effective parental communication, a tantrum can result.
• Trying to reason with a distraught child. A child’s ability to reason is limited, and their capacity to hear and understand lengthy explanations about their behavior, while emotionally distraught, is pretty much non-existent.
• Raising your voice. Children learn by following the example of those around them. A parent’s calm reaction to a tantrum is teaching the child how to effectively behave during frustrating moments.

Remember, it’s normal for parents to feel overwhelmed during a temper tantrum. But temper tantrums really are manageable and there are several tools parents can utilize to turn these challenging situations into teachable moments.

If you are having trouble navigating your child’s temper tantrums, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Orlando mental health counselors.

Source: The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self – Not Just Your “Good” Self- Drives Success and Fulfillment by Todd Kashdan, PhD and Robert Biswas-Diener, Dr. Philos.


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