I Can't Stand It When My Child Throws a Tantrum

12 October, 2020
A parent who thinks "I can't stand it when my child throws a tantrum" reflects a sense of inability to be the external emotional support their child needs. Today's article will discuss some keys to facing dreaded tantrums.

“I can’t stand it when my child throws a tantrum” is a common statement parents say in family therapy consultations. However, it’s critical for them to act as external regulators of emotions and remain calm until their children are able to achieve this autonomous milestone.

Today’s article will show you some keys that’ll facilitate the process of learning to regulate anger. In addition, it’ll help you understand how your child’s brain works in these early stages and your role as a parent in their emotional maturity.

“It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.”

-Stephen Covey-

A child throwing a tantrum.

Children and tantrums

One of the situations parents dread the most are public tantrums. In other words, a child kicking and screaming in the middle of a grocery store or in the middle of the street. These kinds of situations that often awaken feelings of guilt, shame, anger, and, above all, helplessness in parents. This is because they often wonder if they’re doing something wrong.

Why do tantrums happen? Well, tantrums are an expression of frustration and discomfort in children who are still in a preverbal phase of development. Their emotional maturity doesn’t allow them to communicate in any other way. The good news is that this situation will generally improve after four years. In other words, this is a normal stage in the development of a child and there’s nothing embarrassing about it.

In fact, it’s a starting point to begin an autonomous regulation of anger. Thus, how parental figures react to it and handle their own anger or frustration is the main key that’ll guide their child’s learning. Thus, you must analyze what you do when your child gets angry.

Why some parents can’t stand when their child throws a tantrum

Tantrums can be very unpleasant, as they’re pretty intense and often occur in highly inappropriate places. During one, parents may feel helpless and overwhelmed. This is partly due to the contagious effect that human emotions have as a result of mirror neurons.

In addition, children live in their own little universe and have worries and illusions of their own. Thus, adult minds often find it hard to understand why a child can be so intense when they don’t immediately satisfy their desires. Logically, their problems will seem ridiculous if you compare them to yours from your adult perspective.

Also, you must wonder why you really hate it when your child throws a tantrum. What’s your own relationship with anger? That is, how do you manage this emotion and the intensity you feel it with. In fact, even how your own parents reacted when you threw a tantrum.

What to do when your child throws a tantrum?

You mainly learn how to regulate your emotions during childhood and adolescence. The prefrontal area of ​​the brain, one of the main interveners in this emotional regulation, isn’t yet fully developed.

Thus, parents have the external support role for these emotions until their children’s brains are fully developed and they learn to manage their anger. In other words, the main role models of children operate as a referent of anger control they’re unable to sustain for now. For this reason, you can imagine that this external control point must reflect adequate regulation for the child to be able to do it successfully by themselves.

Dealing with tantrums

  • Be their mirror. This is surely the most important and effective way to teach. Every person is a reflection of their main attachment figures. Therefore, how you handle frustration or anger will directly influence the way your child does. When you raise your voice when the child gets angry, they’ll model their behavior in a similar way. Thus, to use this principle to your advantage, verbalize how you manage these emotions in front of them.
  • Their reasons matter. Often, parents react angrily when their children throw a tantrum because their toy broke down or because they can’t continue watching their favorite TV show. Many adults just can’t understand why the child’s world collapses due to something as trivial. In this regard, they must connect with their inner child. Surely a similar scenario would’ve been relevant to you around the age of four or five. Thus, try to think like the child you were.
  • Let the child know which expressions of anger are appropriate and which aren’t. Some parents don’t allow their children to show any expression of anger. They even reprimand them for merely pouting or leaving the room. Yelling and hitting aren’t appropriate expressions of anger because they hurt others. However, pouting, crying, or not wanting to talk are all appropriate. In fact, don’t you do it too when you’re angry? As you can see, this point is about letting them know what the appropriate expressions of anger are and giving them space. Remember that there’s room for all emotions and it’s mainly about restricting some of their expressions.
A woman trying to calm down a child.

Hold your child when they’re angry

Childhood is the time when people learn to regulate emotions, such as anger. There are certain critical periods in which children are more irritable. This is due in part to their brain’s immaturity. Parents must remain calm and act as external regulators because small children can’t efficiently manage their emotions yet.

Thus, “I can’t stand it when my child throws a tantrum” is a common thing parents say when faced with these stressful events. In addition, the fact that it’s difficult for parents to understand that children get angry about “childish things” particularly upsets them during such episodes.

Parents must take these moments as opportunities to teach things to their children. They must be models of anger or impotence management by validating their child’s emotions. Also, it’s important to allow the child to express anger. Remember that it’s important for them to gain control over the way they express their anger and that they shouldn’t bottle it up and repress it.

Pearce, J (1995). Berrinches, enfados y pataletas. Soluciones comprobadas para ayudar a tu hijo a enfrentarse a emociones fuerte. Barcelona: Paidos.