Keeping it Cool - Tricks to taming our Angeries

Published on 23rd September, 2021

Keeping it Cool - Tricks to taming our Angeries

Understanding temper tantrums

Temper tantrums are outbursts of uncontrolled emotions such as anger and frustration. These tantrums can be physical, verbal or both. They can be disruptive and generally unpleasant behaviours. Tantrums occur when an individual cannot cope with the negative emotions and is unable to calm themselves down.

Tantrums that may often seem disproportionate to the circumstances are not limited to children. These outbursts can occur in adults as well.

Reasons for temper tantrums

In children

Tantrums in children aged between one and four years old are part of typical development. As child improves linguistically and learns to self-regulate, these behaviours decrease. Toddlers believe in autonomy and their ability to be independent. Sometimes wanting more control than they can cope with. When their demand is not met, they experience strong emotions such as anger, shame or worry. With their limited ability to self-regulate, these emotions can be overwhelming and may result in temper tantrums.

Factors such as being tired, hungry, uncomfortable or overstimulated, can also result in meltdowns in toddlers as they lack the skills to express their discomfort/needs. At times not getting what they wanted and the disappointment that follows can be too huge for them to handle. When they are unsure of how to express themselves or feel better, they tend to lash out.

Older children have tantrums for similar reasons as well. This also reflects that they may have not learnt appropriate ways of expressing themselves and to manage their feelings.

In adults

Adults experience outburst of emotions when they have being suppressing emotions for a long period of time and they are no longer able to hold them in. Not everyone learns good emotional regulation skills while growing up. This translates to them having difficulties handling difficult emotions and finding appropriate strategies to cope with them.

Tantrums in adult could also be an effort to mask emotions such as shame, guilt or fear. It could also be an attempt to divert attention from an issue or to gain attention. On the other hand, these tantrums can also be reflective of symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression, personality disorders or ADHD.

Managing temper tantrums

In children

During a tantrum

During a tantrum, child is in a highly aroused state. In the state of high arousal, child functions using their limbic system. This means that the child is in their survival mode and is reactive rather than able to reason or regulate. When our children are highly aroused, adults have to maintain their cool and help the child learn to calm down. We would not succeed in teaching this if we react to their tantrums in anger or frustration.

Maintain a calm and level voice when speaking. Be there with them but do not try to reason or distract your child. Acknowledge their feelings and validate it. It may be tempting to give in to your child when they throw a tantrum. However this reinforces their behaviour and they may learn to use these outbursts as a way to get what they want. Be firm and consistent.

Reducing tantrums

  • Be attuned to your child’s needs and feelings. Know what your child’s limits are and avoid taking them out or engaging in activities when they are tired. Note patterns in their behaviours which will indicate when they are hungry or overstimulated. This will help you reduce stressing them out when they have reached their limits.

  • Children, especially toddlers, have short attention spans. When they insist on doing an activity that they cannot engage in, change their environment or suggest another activity to replace the forbidden one. If you are aware of your child’s tendency to want a certain forbidden item or activity, keep these objects out of sight whenever possible. This may not always work in environments outside of your home.

  • Give your children autonomy wherever possible. You can offer them choices in making minor decisions such as which fruit they prefer or which activity they prefer to start on first. Asking “Do you want the apple or the kiwi” as opposed to “Do you want to have fruits?” will ensure you are not answered the default “no”. By being able to make choices, they feel they have a sense of control and autonomy.

  • Create routines for meals and sleep times and stick to them. Avoid delaying these activities or going out during these times. Maintaining a sense of predictability reduces anxiety in children, preventing build up of overwhelming emotions.

  • Be consistent in your rules and consequences with your child. Again, this maintains predictability.

For adults

  • Know your triggers and physical symptoms that indicate you feeling uncontrollable anger or frustration. Racing heart, tightness in your chest or experiencing tremors and shaking are some signs of feeling overwhelmed. When you have identified potential triggers, you can come up with strategies to help you calm down before you face these triggers.

  • Relaxation strategies can help you calm down and manage the intensity or frequency of your outbursts. Everyone has a different strategy that works for them. Identifying and making this strategy part of your daily activities makes it easier for you to apply them in times of need.

  • Similar to children, if you are with a loved one who has a temper tantrum, you give them the space and time to calm down safely. Once they are calmer and able to reason effectively, you can engage them in a conversation about their behaviour (i.e. what are the causes, how it affects them/others, what they can do about it). Offer a listening ear and empathise with them while being firm.

  • Seek help from a professional. An adult having regular anger outbursts or temper tantrums is not healthy nor usual. If you are having difficulties coping with your emotions and require support in managing them, you may want to get professional help.