Tantrum Priorities: What to Focus On When Your Child has a Tantrum!


It’s amazing how calm we can remain when faced with a tantrum…when we understand what is happening for our child.

Last week our three year-old, Ed, came home and was tired and hungry. He was upset and he was cross with the world.

The Triad of Internal Drives always works in the same order: Physical Needs dominate Emotional Needs dominate Rational Needs. This is human biology and no amount of reason or logic or parenting advice or wishes or societal demands can over-ride these.

I knew he needed to eat and to get to bed as soon as possible, so I made him a quick snack and helped him up to the table to eat it.

He didn’t like the bowl I had put the food in. He moaned and groaned and became weepy. I had to prioritise my focus: I could have stuck to my guns and insisted he have the bowl I had given him (Rational Focus); I could have reasoned with him (Rational Focus); I could have threatened a punishment if he did not eat from that particular bowl (Rational Focus).

The problem with these approaches is that they would have added to the stress and exacerbated the tantruming behaviour. He was having a Reaction Tantrum not a Processing Tantrum. This was not a state of coming to terms with something he found unpleasant in his world…his world was already unpleasant…his body was an uncomfortable place to be and he needed to be helped to calm so that he could feel safe and secure in himself again.

He was well entrenched in his Physical Need state so, although I offered, he did not want to be comforted (Emotional Need).

So, I put his food in the bowl he requested. His body somewhat relaxed and he began to eat.

He asked for a cuddle, so I removed him from his chair and then sat down with him on my lap; we snuggled silently while he finished his snack. Over a period of about 5 minutes he calmed and hardly murmured when I took him off to bed.

The awesome thing for me, and not what I would have understood when our eldest, Joe, was the same age…was that I knew that he would calm *if* I didn’t worry about pulling him into his conscious brain. I didn’t try to ‘teach’ him or ‘help’ him. This was not an appropriate time to do either of those things.

This was a time to focus on his Physical Internal Drives to the exclusion of his Rational Internal Drive and, in this situation, even his Emotional Internal Drives were in the backseat. I focussed in on the most urgent need and then the secondary need. I could stay calm and didn’t become overwhelmed.

My focus could remain on him and not my need to teach or help.

Ahhhh, the benefit of experience and a little learning! (I do think, Poor Joe, some days.)

For more innovative ideas about dealing with tantrums buy my book,



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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3 Responses to Tantrum Priorities: What to Focus On When Your Child has a Tantrum!

  1. Simona says:

    When you know better you do better. I sometimes wish I’d had my children later in life, because I’m sure I’d be a much more relaxed and capable mother now!

    • I dunno, Simona. I was almost 34 when I had our first and still had to go through the process of unlearning and relearning…perhaos it was slightly quicker because I was older? I don’t know… Lovely to hear from you. xx

  2. Pingback: Tantrums: The Changing Landscape of a Tantrum | kloppenmum

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