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Lena Engel
Worked as an Ofsted Early Years Inspector for Kensington and Chelsea Borough. Supported teachers in schools to improve outcomes for children’s learning, and written for Nursery World Magazine. She trains, assesses and mentors early years practitioners, and offers advice and guidance to parents.
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Stage 8 – before 5th birthday

Tantrums and emotional regulation

It can be very embarrassing, challenging and upsetting if your older child is still having tantrums after their toddler days are over.  However, tantrums and meltdowns do sometimes still occur in preschool children, school-aged children and even teenagers.
In Short
True tantrums are less common after the age of 8 years but can persist in some children.

Try to identify the triggers for your child's tantrums and meltdowns and try to minimise them in day to day life.

If you have concerns about your child's tantrums and development speak to your child's doctor to assess if your child is struggling with developmental delay.

Why are tantrums rarer in older children?

Tantrums become rare by around eight to ten years old because most children have usually:

  • Developed communication skills to express their feelings.
  • Become able to delay gratification.
  • Learned to regulate their feelings of anger and fear.
  • Become able to understand complex concepts like future rewards and other people’s points of view.

However, tantrums and meltdowns do persist in some children. A tantrum tends to occur when a child is unable to regulate their emotions. Emotions are driven by the more ancient limbic system of the brain that feels anger and fear. That said, we will all remember a time where we have lost our temper or had a meltdown, e.g., in a traffic jam and late for an important meeting.

It isn’t a good idea to ignore or physically punish children if they are suffering from meltdowns and tantrums. They have lost control of their emotions and will probably feel anxious and afraid of how they feel.

How can I help my child to regulate his emotions?

To help children conquer tantrums you need to:

1) Find out whether they are comfortable with their basic needs.

We can help older children to regulate their emotions by first of all making sure that they are comfortable and their basic needs are met. These are very simple things that we often overlook – such as ensuring they’re not hungry, thirsty, tired, too hot or cold.

2) Stick to gentle routines and boundaries.

The less chaos in their days, the less out of control children will tend to feel.

3) Identify what the triggers are.

If you can, identify children’s tantrum triggers and try to discuss and address those problems as well as trying to limit or manage them.

4) Incorporate some positive discipline techniques into childrens’ days.

This can include encouraging them to describe their emotions and why they feel them. To help them regulate their emotions let them imagine making an unpleasant emotion like anger get smaller and smaller. It is very empowering for children to understand that they are in charge of their emotions and not the other way around.

5) Be kind, calm and sensitive.

Relaxation, cuddles, and breathing exercises can help chidren feel safe.

If you are concerned with about your child’s tantrums and overall emotional development speak to your doctor or health visitor as sometimes there may be an underlying developmental delay and early intervention may help your child. You may be able to get a referral to a specialist to explore this further.

Share the knowledge
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.