Tantrum Triad: Understanding and Managing Tantrum Behaviours

Tantrums can be grouped into two main categories: Reaction Tantrums and Processing Tantrums, but in reality children (or adults for that matter) often have both together at the same time.

When this happens, they are easier to deal with if we are aware of the Triad of Internal Drives underpinning our body-language. The Triad of Internal Drives is: Physical Need; Emotional Need; Rational Need.

The great thing about still having my own children going through these processes, is that I am provided with many stories to share as examples. Here’s one from yesterday, that shows the Triad perfectly.

Our lovely three year-old had a late nap in the car yesterday on the way to pick up his big brothers from the bus-stop and take our eldest to his piano lesson. When we got to the piano lesson, he woke up he was ratty and foul to be with. He was screaming and his body was tense.

His Physical Need was to have the space and time to wake up properly. I knew that this would take around half and hour and until then I had to remain conscious and focussed on him, as much as I could.

His Emotional Need was to have comfort and be soothed, but initially anyway, his Physical Need had told his brain he was deeply stressed and he was unable to accept my comforting or calm his stressed brain.

His Rational Need was to understand that he couldn’t just go home, as he would have liked. And actually, where ever we were and what ever situation we were in, that would have been wrong…until he had woken up and he had been soothed into calm.

The older boys are comfortable and familiar with the piano teacher and her family, so simply hopped out of the car and took themselves into the yard to play with the children there. (While we waited for the lesson.)

Ed, the three year-old, fought with me all the way inside the yard. I carried him, gently but firmly, inside the gate and locked it. He could then work through his process while safe and with me present. I put him down on the ground.

For about 15 minutes his Physical Need remained dominant. He screamed that he wanted to go home. He screamed that he didn’t want to be there. He screamed and yelled and was ferocious. His large limbs were clearly dominating his body-language and he was unable to calm.

Whenever he told me to, I held him in a Boring Cuddle (Quick Way to Stop Children Fussing.) Whenever he told me to, I put him down. Whenever he said he wanted to go home, I said, “I understand that you want to go home, but we have to stay here until Joe’s lesson is finished.”

I did not reason with him or punish him or ignore him or distract him: those approaches do not speak to the part of his brain that was currently dominant.

After around 15 minutes, his body began to soften and his screaming became less intense and less frequent. I could then hold him on my lap, without him fighting me, and he could be comforted in a way that was useful to him.(Boring Cuddles) He happily ate the muffin he had been given. He relaxed into my body. He was beginning to accept the Rational Need – to understand there was NO option but to stay until his brother’s lesson had finished.

After about another 10 minutes, he happily hopped off my knee and went to socialise with the other children and husband of the piano teacher.

Not long afterwards it was time to go home and he wanted to stay. (Of course.)

But as: his Physical Need to wake up properly had been met; his Emotional Need to be helped to calm had been met; and his Rational Need to understand the situation had been met (lastly and as the result of information bubbling up from the more powerful parts of his brain) there was nothing more than an expression of disappointment and he followed his brothers and I out to the car.

The drama lessened and we had a pleasant evening.

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Covers: Attention Seeking; Boredom; Transitions; Frustration Tantrums; Possession Tantrums; Over-Excitement; Over-Whelmed Tantrums; The Witching Hour; Jealousy; Wilfulness and more!

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About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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6 Responses to Tantrum Triad: Understanding and Managing Tantrum Behaviours

  1. Thank you for such an illustrative example. I’m forwarding to my husband who tends to try and cajole and threaten our son out of his tantrums – which I instinctively think is the wrong way to go. Clearly reasoning and threats are futile during tantrums and what I’ve found works best is to let them run their course and then provide a safe and loving embrace. Anyway, that has worked best for me and our son, but I’d LOVE to see how the science backs me up (or if it does), and NOT just to throw it in my husband’s face. ; )

  2. Alison says:

    I love that you illustrated the terms, because trying to get my head around it would have made me go into a tantrum.

    I ordered your book and it’s being shipped, can’t wait to get it!

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