Tuesday, August 4

The Science of Parenting- Dealing with the letter T.....

the terrifying TANTRUMS!

I don't know about you but when a child shows signs of a tantrum, that is the cue for me to return the said child to the parents. Now, what if you are the parents? Here is the good news because in this chapter we will learn all about tantrums - why it happens, what are the different types and most importantly how we can deal with them. Armed with the arsenal, hopefully parents will be empowered and feel less helpless when tantrums happen. Firstly, we need to understand what is going on inside a child's head when he is being naughty. It is also essential to keep in mind of the child's feelings and relationship issues in addition to the overt difficult behaviours. According to the book, there are 6 main reasons that contribute to a child behaving badly. These are:

  • Tiredness and Hunger
  • An undeveloped Brain
  • Psychological Hungers
  • Needing help with a Big feeling
  • Picking up on YOUR stress
  • You activate the wrong part of your child's brain.

Tiredness and Hunger

  • Children behave badly when they have an unmet physical need for food or sleep. This is the easiest of the lot to deal with as you can ascertain this quite quickly.
  • Sleep loss intensifies negative emotions when we are under stress. It also causes imbalances in blood sugar levels and consequently affects moods.
  • Sugar and sweets may cause bad behaviour – sugar high. They get energy boost within 10-15 min and then they crash after a certain period of time. This can lead to hypoglycaemia, which in turn leads to aggression, anxiety and hyperactive behaviour such as rushing about and climbing up on things.
  • Hunger also disrupts the hormones in the body. To remedy, ensure that your children are eating proper meal.
  • Consuming certain foods or drinks may also play havoc with their brains.
  • Children are particularly vulnerable to food additives because their bodies and brain are so immature.
  • These are often found in processed food such as biscuits, sweets, soft drinks. They can have mood-altering effects and are common triggers for bad behaviour. Some additives reduce the level of dopamine and noradrenaline in the brain resulting in hyperactive behaviour in some children.
  • Opt for appealing healthy alternatives that are low in additives, colouring and sugar whenever possible.

An undeveloped emotional brain

  • Remember the Immature brain theory that we have learned about in the past chapters? Young children can't naturally inhibit their primitive impulses to lash out, run about and climb up things.
  • Sometimes a child is unfairly punished as parents are afraid of being manipulated and resort to punishments for the behaviours.
  • There are scientific evidence to suggest that a baby's or a young child's brain isn't developed enough to have thoughts about manipulating adults.
  • Glutamate system in the frontal lobes of the brain enables us to have clearly defined thoughts and intentions. And this system is not properly established in babies and small children, which means they lack the sophistication to be deliberately naughty or manipulative. This system starts to develop during the first year of life.

Psychological hungers

  • There are 3 psychological hungers – for stimulation, recognition and structure. Over time, if one or more of these remain unsatisfied, people can be emotionally unwell.
  • Under-stimulation (boredom) is a pain in the brain. It is registered as stress. To change this state, people do things to increase their arousal state.
  • Because children have fewer resources than adults, the stimulation they choose is often aggressive, noisy or destructive.
  • Part of stimulation hunger is incident hunger. If a child is not experiencing enough incidents, he will make his own, perhaps fighting his brother or throwing a temper tantrum.
  • Recognition hunger makes a child seeks attention.
  • This is a genetically programmed need for attention. This means having an impact on someone in a way that makes them respond. “If I have an impact, I know I exist.”
  • If a child feels that good behaviour does not impact on his parents, he resorts to bad behaviour instead.
  • Bad behaviour stems from the recognition hunger that says, “Please don't ignore me”. If your child thinks the only way to get your attention is to be naughty, to scream or to cry then this is what he will do. They will take what they can get.
  • We have a psychological need for structure. Without it adult feels restless, depressed, anxious or lose focus and meaning. It is the same with children. They need the structure of a clear house rules and consistent routine.
  • Consider the structureless time for a child waiting in a queue at a supermarket. Your child will suddenly become horrid. However, when you do some structured activities with him while waiting, your child will be fine.

Needing help with big feeling.

  • Children may be angered, frustrated or jealous of the attention being paid to a sibling and so on. These big feelings activate the stress chemicals in the brain and body and thus outbursts are often a child's way of relieving tension.
  • A child does not have the words to express his emotions, so he vents his feelings in a scream or a shout.
  • Parents need to help the children with the feelings so that the higher brain can develop essential pathways to regulate such feelings.

Picking up on your stress.

  • A child's behaviour is often a barometer of parental stress, depression, anger or grief.
  • Persistent screaming and raging in a child can be a way of discharging his parents' emotions.
  • The right prefrontal part of a child's brain can pick up emotional atmospheres in milliseconds. As such, the more stressed you are, the more likely your children are to behave badly.
  • Just as some dogs are susceptible to the emotions of their owners, so children are deeply affected on a bodily and emotional level by stress and unhappiness in their family.
  • If the atmosphere at home is tense, you child can be horrid. Conversely, if you're relaxed, chances are they will be calm.

You activate the wrong part of your child's brain.

  • The way you relate to you child is crucial. For instance, if you shout and issue endless commands – "Do this, don't do that" – you could be unwittingly activating the primitive Rage and Fear systems that are deep in the mammalian and reptilian parts of the brain.
  • In contrast, lots of play, laughter and cuddles are likely to activate the brain's PLAY and CARE systems. These release the calming opiods which make children feel happy and contented.

Temper tantrums

  • Because of their intensity, temper tantrums are not only frightening to the child himself but also leave the parents feeling inept, helpless and overwhelmed.
  • This is particularly true when parents' own intense feelings were not handled well in their childhood. It can be very challenging for a parent to manage his/her own feelings during a child's tantrum.
  • It is vital that parents stay calm and think of rational and creative ways to manage a child's feeling.
  • Why tantrums are important?

    1. These are key times for brain sculpting because the emotional regulation of a child's feelings enables him to establish essential brain pathways for managing stress and being assertive later in life.
    2. The too-good child who does not have tantrums, learned early on that when he expressed big feelings, he elicited a frightening parental response. The price of parental love, acceptance and approval is total compliance hence no tantrums at all cost.
    3. This child misses out of the vital brain sculpting that he gets from his parents when he expresses big, dramatic feelings. This means that when he faces frustration later in life, he may respond with angry outbursts or struggle to be assertive.
    4. Not ALL tantrums are battles for power. It could be a genuine emotional pain. It is a mistake to think that rage is always about control.
    5. There are 2 different types of tantrum namely Distress versus "Little Nero" tantrums.
    6. Learn to differentiate the 2 so that you can respond appropriately. For the former, move towards the child with comfort and solace while the latter you need to move away.

Distress tantrums

  • Parent's role is to soothe your child when he experiences huge emotional storms in his brain and body. Without comfort the distress can leave the child with toxic level of stress hormones.
  • Children can't talk or listen well when distressed. Avoid trying to talk to your child during this period as they won't be able to process it.
  • Take the distress seriously and meet your child's pain of loss, frustration or acute disappointment with sympathy and understanding. When this is done, you will be helping your child to develop vital stress regulating systems.
  • How to handle distress tantrums?

    1. Use simple, calm actions or provide a simple choice. For example, if your child is upset about getting dressed, ask whether he wants to wear his blue or brown shirt.
    2. Use distraction. This activates the SEEKING system and makes him feel curious. It can override the brain's rage or distress systems.
    3. Hold your child tenderly. Speak to him softly using soothing words like “I know, I know”.. This prevents him from becoming angry or withdrawing from you.
    4. Avoid using the time-out technique during distress tantrum.
    5. Avoid putting a child in a room on his own. Vocal crying may stop but he may continue to cry internally, which is more worrying.
    6. Remind yourself that the distress is genuine when you get overwhelmed.
    7. Using distraction to avert tantrum is not “spoiling” your child.
    8. They do not have an adult perspective on life and thus not being able to do or have something they want can activate full-blown grief reaction. This is a result of immaturity rather than being naughty.

Little Nero tantrums

  • Happens when a child tries to get what he wants – attention, toy, food etc – through bullying his parents into submission. They have learned that shouting and screaming produce results.
  • These children need to learn that they can't receive the gratification they want and that it is not OK to bully or control others to get what they want in life.
  • In little nero tantrums, there is usually an absence of tears and the child is able to articulate her demands and argues when you say “no”.
  • The more you reward the tantrum with attention and giving her what she wants, the more she will continue to adopt the behaviour and you are in danger of setting up a trigger-happy rage system in her brain.
  • Reason is the mere experience of rage without the capacity for reasoned thinking can result in rage becoming a part of your child's personality.
  • When this is not handled well at an early age, they continue use this strategy to win tantrums at age 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 20, 35 or 60. They might grow into power-seeking, bullying adults.
  • Techniques to handling Little Nero tantrums.

    1. Don't give your child an audience. It must be a solo performance for it to stop. Once you are sure it is not distress tantrum, simply walk away.
    2. Don't try to reason, argue or persuade. Attention and words reward his negative behaviour.
    3. Don't “kiss it better”
    4. Don't negotiate. You are rewarding the behaviour if you do.
    5. Give clear, firm “nos” and try to manage your own anger.
    6. Deal firmly with your child's commands. Give a clear, firm message about commands being unacceptable as a way to get what he wants. Eg. “I'm happy to talk about what you would like when your voice is as quiet as mine.”
    7. Give information about social charm. This works better with an older child whose brain is more developed.
    8. Use humour and play when appropriate. This can deflate a Little Nero's power bubble. Mirror him back to himself.
    9. Use Time Out as a last resort. It is only appropriate only if your child is hurting someone.
    10. Learn to distinguish between the 2 tantrums.

Other triggers
  • It is also useful to understand the triggers that are linked to tantrums. Typically, these are boredom, frustration and disappointment.
  • Find out if there are enough stimulations in the house.
  • Teach your child to express their feelings through words.

    It is no wonder that people say parenting is the hardest job in the world. Not only do we have to ensure that we bring up the child with proper care and love, we also need to work at having the knowledge, skills and the right dispositions when dealing with the child at different stages of growth. Maybe that is why people also say parenting grows adults up. What a challenge and privilege.

    Next up: The trying times

    If you miss the previous summaries on Science of Parenting click here and here and here.

    P.S. Your discretion is advised. Your comments and thoughts are most welcome.
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