Zionsville Times Sentinel

Commentary

December 11, 2013

Tame tantrums by understanding root

Temper tantrums -- sometimes they give warning they are coming; others storm from out of nowhere.

As parents try to help children regain self-control and listen to instruction in the midst of a tantrum, it can seem like trying to stop a waterfall. What makes an ordinarily cooperative child suddenly unresponsive to parental influence? What can parents do to effectively intervene?

First, consider biology. When human beings perceive a threat, the reasoning portion of the brain shuts down. When a child is denied a highly desired goal or is pushed into a dreaded situation, his brain interprets this as a threat. Because the brain treats all significant threats as a life or death situation, it goes into protection mode.

The brain automatically shifts blood flow from the reasoning portion of the brain to the portion that initiates survival responses -- determining if survival is best accomplished by fleeing or fighting. In this mode, the brain simply can't respond to another's input -- no matter how rational or affirming the input might be.

All brains function this way to one degree or another, which explains how even disagreements between adults can explode so easily. Add the immaturity of a child, and there is the recipe for an out-of-control tantrum. When parents keep in mind the biology behind their child's reaction, it's easier to formulate an effective response.

See Wednesday's Times Sentinel for the full story.

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