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Is your 7-year-old experiencing tantrums?
When people see older children have a tantrum, they may see them as acting up or spoiled but the truth isn’t that straightforward, tantrums are a complex behavior, and they happen for a reason. What’s more, it’s important to know the difference between an emotional meltdown and whether you should teach discipline vs punishment to your child.
Generally, as children grow older, they develop the language skills needed to express feelings such as anger and frustration verbally. They learn how to regulate their emotions successfully and how to barter for what they want. Many kids learn how to manage challenging emotions and cope with disappointments such as losing games or an unexpected change in plans.
Though some children take longer than others to learn these skills, it’s not uncommon for 7-year-olds to persist with tantrums. This can result in highly emotionally charged situations for yourself and your child. It’s important to recognize that some kids may be having a tough time learning self-control and how to manage anxiety. These and other reasons that we will explain here can lead to tantrums in older children. We will also look at how you can help navigate them in a calming way, for both you and your child.
There are many reasons why 7-year-olds throw tantrums, and generally, they are a sign your child is having a tough time with certain things, such as behavior, learning, or both. Tantrums are a very normal reaction to anger or frustration and are often within your child’s control. On the other hand, emotional meltdowns are a very different scenario and are a behavior that is not within your child’s control. They are usually a result of overstimulation of the sensory system. Many people often confuse tantrum and emotional meltdowns with each other, so ensure you know the difference to effectively help your child.
Although clinginess might come to mind, tantrums could also be indicative of anxiety in children. This all comes down to how the human brain is wired. You may have heard of the fight or flight response; anxiety occurs when an area of the brain called the amygdala senses danger. It could be an imagined or real threat, and the body responds with a rush of hormones to make the body react. This is an entirely natural response that’s kept us alive for thousands of years. An anxious brain is healthy, but senses the threat more frequently, resulting in anxiety. Many people feel that the most difficult thing about having anxiety is when the body reacts with little warning and goes into flight or fight mode. When it comes to kids, any new or challenging situation can be considered a potential threat to their growing brains. This response happens automatically, sending hormones throughout the body, preparing them for fight or flight survival mode, and yes, you guessed it, a tantrum!
Another reason children endure temper tantrums is due to emotional regulation. All children have different environmental triggers. To put it simply, this means they can feel stronger emotions due to the environment around them. This may come down to character and personality traits, and it means that some children are more likely to experience a highly charged emotional outburst than others.
Seeking attention can also be a factor why your child may seem so angry. All children require attention, and if they feel they are unable to get what they want through showing positive behavior, they can resort to negative behaviors to settle their needs. Think about the classic, familiar shopping scenario where they have spotted something they want on a shelf they can’t have! Attention-seeking behavior is very normal for children aged 3-7, as they find it difficult to understand the difference between needs and wants.
Temper tantrums can also be a sign your child is having difficulty putting complex emotions and feelings into words. For example, if your child finds school work very tricky, they may resort to a temper tantrum to avoid a particular homework scenario. For some children tantrums may be a coping mechanism. That’s why it’s important to understand the triggers of this behavior so that you can support your child in learning how to manage best.
First of all, stop whatever you are doing and try and get your child to a safe place if possible. Acknowledge and recognize the feeling with your child, do your best to keep a calm voice. You could say something such as, “I know you are angry the party is canceled, don’t worry, let’s find something else fun to do later instead”. Saying there’s nothing you can do about it won’t help, nor will any negative talk. Let your little one know that you understand what they are experiencing and will help them through it. This is known as validating their feelings.
Be clear and consistent and avoid any threats with your child. For example, saying “Stop screaming else we are going home” over and over to your daughter, without going home will teach her that you do not mean what you are saying. As parents, it can be tempting to want to find the easiest solution to end the tantrum. But remember, bribing children in the heat of the moment with a reward sends out the wrong message, which will result in more tantrums next time.
Keep an eye out for any potential triggers which could have caused an upset temper tantrum. This will help you to digest what’s going on, and recognize whether it is a tantrum or emotional meltdown your child is experiencing. It could be a particular time of the day, or them showing avoidance of going to school, bath time, or another step in the daily routine for your child. Do your best to understand when they may be exhausted, for example, if they are very tired it might not be the best time to rush them out the door to go to the supermarket.
Another strategy is to ignore your child's tantrum by looking in a different direction and pretend you do not hear the commotion. This is often an effective way to stop a temper tantrum in its tracks. Then once your child is calm, you can reflect with them about what happened and console them. Overloading kids with commands and explaining the lesson while they are in a heightened emotional state is fruitless. Of course, if the reason they are having a tantrum is a genuinely sad event in your child's life, you can cuddle them sooner, but think about when to give affection as you don’t want to reinforce negative behavior.
Once they are calm, you can also explain to your child some simple strategies about staying calm if they are feeling angry, such as counting to five or taking a deep breath. Teach other calming tips including thinking of a positive happy place or experience and talk to them about what happened in a calming way about how these feelings can be managed if they occur again.
Don’t forget yourself in the process of parenting your kids. We know temper tantrums can also be highly stressful for you as a parent, especially if you’re alone and in a public place where you might feel all eyes are on you. Do your best to ignore looks and comments from those passing by and focus on yourself and your son or daughter. It’s essential to take care of your well-being while managing your child’s tantrums or meltdowns.
First things first, acknowledge to yourself that this is just your upset child’s way of letting off steam to you as a parent. This helps take the pressure off the situation, and you should feel more calm once you tell yourself this. There are many aspects to your child’s life you can control, but feelings are not one of them. We can’t wave a special magic wand and fix it once your child is in an upset tantrum mode, but we can be there for them and let them know that we understand it’s tough and offer empathy. This leads us to acceptance of the scenario. So, when the temper tantrum is in motion, take a deep breath, accept it is happening and a part of parenting.
Remind yourself that your child sharing these deep emotions with you is ultimately because they feel safe sharing and trusting these big feelings with you. That’s why they often save the biggest temper tantrums just for the closest caregivers. While that’s not fun when you're in your position, try to reflect and use the time to connect with your child emotionally.
If the tantrum is a demand, try your utmost not to give in to your upset child, as this will only lead to more enormous and more dramatic temper tantrums next time round. If you are feeling it is getting too much for you to manage to be around, ensure your child is safe, and then take a step back and ignore your child. If you find it difficult to keep yourself calm, sometimes a change of face can help de-escalate the situation, such as swapping over with another parent or caregiver, though be mindful that this does not serve as a reward to your kid's negative behavior.
There are some ways you can support your child to learn more and help to reduce tantrum behavior, such as offering them control over choices. For example, you could say "Do you want water or milk?". This way you are not saying have a drink right now and are giving them an element of control. The same goes for parts of the daily routine, instead of "Can you brush your teeth now?", instead try "Do you want to brush your teeth before or after reading a bedtime book?". Using choices helps to reduce confrontational situations which may just result in an outright "No!" response from your child. When it comes to trying to prevent a tantrum next time, do reflect carefully on what could be done next time if this situation arises to support both you and your son or daughter.
You might be feeling like your child is always angry. But at what point do these exceed the usual childhood temper tantrums and require expert help? Be aware of tantrums that disrupt your daily life and cause conflicts with your family or if others are reporting to you, such as their school teacher, that your child is out of control. Suppose your child’s angry outbursts are a danger to themselves or others, or their persistent behavior results in social exclusions (such as classroom punishments or not being invited to parties as other children fear them). In that case, it may be a reason to seek professional guidance for your child.
Temper tantrums could also be a sign of anxiety or past trauma. Additionally, tantrum behavior is commonly associated with several conditions, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), or Autism. You can talk to a psychologist to further comprehend your child’s needs and emotions if you are concerned about their behavior level. Note that this does not necessarily mean your child has a specific condition, they may just need some support with managing anger. Anger issues in child development can be resolved with various therapies, such as counseling or play therapy, and some can even occur in school. Speaking to a psychologist will help you to understand the best way to support your child. There are also a number of parenting groups that can help you to learn additional skills for managing emotions.
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