Tantrums are normal and usually occur from 18 months onwards. It can be helpful to look at tantrums as communicating something about what is going on for your child. An acronym for figuring this out is HALTS:
H – Hunger
A – Anger
S – Stressed
HALTS helps to identify what may be the cause of the tantrum:
- Is your child wanting connection?
- Are they feeling frustrated because they are trying to do something that is too difficult?
- Or are they testing out their autonomy and feeling controlled?
Once we know why a tantrum is occurring, we can empathise, help them to calm and then, when their learning brain is back online, address the need and support the child to learn new behaviours. It’s important to remember that we need to connect to our child’s emotional experience during a tantrum, and not connect to their learning brain until after they have regulated and it is back online.
We can follow 3 steps to tap into children’s higher thinking or learning brain:
- Regulate: Pause, breathe, notice your child’s emotion and identify what it is about. Help them to regulate and calm (sensory supports help here for soothing a child, e.g. moving to another room in the house or leaving the grocery store, using a soothing voice to communicate you are here for them when they are ready)
- Relate: Connect with the child through a genuine, sensitive relationship (really hear what’s happening for them and empathise with why they feel this way. Reflect on what emotions might be underneath the anger. Talk and reflect their emotion and your understanding of what it was about).
- Reason: Communicate your acceptance for the feeling (not the behaviour). Support the child to talk about what happened, and continue to provide reassurance and problem-solve together.
Dr Justin Coulson offers some great additional tips on his Happy Families website.
Written by Jessie Czaban, Child & Family Counsellor at The Shepherd Centre.
Want more advice from The Shepherd Centre team?
- How to look after yourself when you’re looking after others
- Taking what is heard to heart
- How to encourage auditory memory in children