Children throw tantrums because their “emotional brain” develops faster than their “rational brain." Therefore, it’s hard for children to reason through their impulses when they get emotional.
This does not mean that reason and emotion should be viewed separately. In fact, studies have found that people tend to make more irrational decisions when their ability to arouse or feel emotions is reduced. To support your children to control their emotions, it is important to stimulate the connection between their emotional and rational brain, so that children can recognize their emotions to develop rationality.
Here are two simple steps to guide your child to overcome tantrums and manage their emotions.
1. Describe the emotions
When children lose their temper, patiently ask them “What are you feeling now?" Then, follow up by trying to understand why they are feeling this way. When answering these questions, teach your children to use emotion vocabulary to describe their feelings. This process helps them understand their own emotions and calm them down.
A fantastic movie that displays this process is Pixar's Inside Out (2015), which features the emotions joy, sadness, fear, disgust, and anger as five animated characters. You too can start by using these characters to guide your child to express their emotions. As an example, let’s look at a conversation between Anna and her father:
Father: What are you feeling now?
Anna: I don't know!
Father: What is the character in your mind now? Joy? Sadness? Fear? Disgust? Anger?
Anna: It’s Anger!
Father: What is Anger doing? Is he dancing?
Anna: Well, he’s jumping! Jumping!
Father: Where are the other four characters? Are they hiding?
Father: Why are they hiding, do you know?
Anna: Because… because they are scared.
Father: You feel a little scared too, don’t you?
Anna: Well, a little bit…
Father: Okay, thanks for letting me know. Let's talk about what's scaring you sweetie.
As shown in this conversation above, Anna slowly realizes that besides anger, she is also a little scared. When being guided through the conversation, Anna observes and describes her emotions, rapidly switching between the “emotional brain” and the “rational brain." This process not only gradually calms her down, but also helps her to establish a stronger connection between her reason and emotions.
2. Reflect upon emotions
The next step is to ask your child to think about the emotions identified. Go back to the initial situation and guide them to reflect on where their emotions came from and how to overcome the negative emotions. Basically, you need to help your child analyze the underlying reasons that caused the tantrum. Reviewing the entire process is important.
Psychological studies have found that people’s emotions do not come from the event itself, but from their view of the event. Reflecting upon the process with your child will enable both of you to share your perspectives and clarify any misunderstandings.