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Tantrums explained



Tantrums are on the rise, here’s how to deal

Tantrums are on the rise, here’s how to deal


In the four years I worked at a Mt. Tremper preschool, one of my duties was to take a tantruming child between the ages of two and four and sit with them in another room until they calmed down. Of three employees, I was least experienced, yet the director of the school maintained I was best at it.  Apparently, this was because I’d worked in bars in New York City, where I was known for both a good margarita, and an excellent “bedside manner” with unruly drunks who needed to be cut off or escorted out without incident. I applied the same de-escalation techniques to the kids: don’t ask questions, and mirror calmness, not agitation.

In a helpful article for the New York Times, writer Ashley Abramson outlines why those very responses are helpful with child tantrums. The efficiency of “mirroring” behavior – acting calm to influence your child to calm down – is not fully understood, but it is often better than hugging them between two cushions, and definitely better than yelling at them. If you’re not calm, but agitated, Abramson counsels leaving the room until you can chill out, then going back in.

Of mirroring, Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry and bio-behavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, says, “So your child may not just do what you’re doing, but feel what you’re feeling.” It is what we once called ‘monkey see, monkey do.’

According to neuroscientist R. Douglas Fields, author of Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain, the physiology of what’s happening in a tantrum can be broken down to “the amygdala, primarily responsible for processing emotions or anger like fear; and the hypothalamus, which in part controls unconscious functions like heart rate or temperature.”

READ MORE: Pandemic heightens kid’s separation anxiety

A child’s amygdala detects a threat and her hypothalamus causes her to snap.

Reasoning with a child in this state is a waste of time. The stress response has effectively shut down the part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex – that will not fully develop until adulthood anyway.

When it’s all going down, Katie Rosanbalm, a senior research scientist at the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, says, “It’s also important to pair your calmness with warm and empathic cues, which can signal to the amygdala that there’s no danger. The amygdala stops sending out the alarm, which causes the stress response cascade to cease.”

In the calm-down process, focus more on your actions rather than your words: Your child can mirror your emotions just by looking at your nonverbal communication, like your body posture, vocal tone and facial expressions.



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