Tantrums

Why did I research this?

I got talking to my neighbour a few weeks back on ‘the driveway’, our local hangout while the kids ride bikes, play handball, have all sorts of meltdowns and learn to get along with each other.  She, a stay at home mother of three, mentioned that she was exhausted and recovering from a tantrum hangover.  “A tantrum hangover” I thought to myself.  I love this. I knew what she meant.  That day after your child has thrown the biggest wobbly over and over again over floppy socks, broken sticks, bananas that won’t peel, the wind, cold drinks, warm drinks, big spoons, small spoons, new shoes, knots in shoes, not enough cake and so forth.  That day when you feel so utterly exhausted from watching, dodging, and supporting your child through their tears, shouting, wailing, throwing and out of control state.  Immediately I wanted to screen-print t shirts with this line ‘I’m recovering from a tantrum hangover’. I felt so relieved that even mothers of eight year old daughters, who have shiny and honey coloured hair and are softly spoken, polite, sweet as a melted marshmallow and cute as a button can cause their mothers to feel hungover from a long lasting or repetitive day of tantrums and/or meltdowns.

What did I find out?

Firstly, you are not alone.  Just in case you thought this never happened to your mother or your sister in law or the family across the road… tantrums and meltdowns are everywhere and they can cause fatigue, headaches and hangovers.  According to Payne Bryson and Siegel, there are two types of tantrums to be aware of:

  1. An upstairs tantrum is where your child decides to act out and push boundaries to get what he wants.  This type of tantrum is intentional and can be stopped at any time if he chooses to, because he is able to control his emotions and body by using his upstairs brain.  This type of tantrum can be reduced over time with boundary setting and issuing of consequences. Eg, “I can see that you love toys so much but the way you are talking is not to my liking. You are showing me that you are not able to handle yourself and if you continue I will cancel your play at the park this afternoon.”
  2. A downstairs tantrum is where your child becomes so upset and angry that he cannot reason with himself.  His upstairs brain gets taken over by his downstairs brain (his amygdala) and he cannot control his emotions or his body nor can he consider consequences, other people’s feelings or how to solve the problem.  This type of tantrum needs comfort and nurturing until the right brain is released and comes back into the picture to help solve the problem.

Why is this useful?

  • Whatever the tantrum, being aware of them can help us see when it’s time to be firm and set boundaries or when it’s time to be compassionate and nurturing, helping us to become more effective as we discipline.
  • When you nurture and connect for a downstairs tantrum, you are helping to engage the upstairs brain, which will in turn help your child to use their whole brain in the future.
  • When you put your foot down and set boundaries for an upstairs tantrum you are maintaining your authority, which can be more effective in reducing these types of tantrums over time.  (Siegel and Payne Bryson, 2011).

~ SM

Siegel, D.J, Payne Bryson, T. (2011) The wholebrain child. 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. United States: Bantam Books.