26 Sept 2022

Positive Parenting: Little temper tantrums

Positive Parenting: Little temper tantrums

If you give in during a Little Nero tantrum you are in danger of teaching your child that the more of a fight they put up the more likely you are to give in

TEMPER tantrums are extreme outward expressions of a child’s feelings. As many of you might already know, they can be scary for both children and parents. Although it may not feel this way in the moment, temper tantrums are actually positive as they are teaching a child’s brain how to manage stress in later life. As parents, you have a wonderful opportunity in supporting your children to do this.
There are two types of temper tantrums; Distress Tantrums and Little Nero Tantrums. Distress Tantrums do exactly what they say on the tin. During a Distress Tantrum, a child is experiencing huge emotional upset. They can be triggered by feelings of disappointment, loss, or frustration. Little Nero Tantrums are about a desire to control something, which is very typical in young children.

Distress Tantrums
During a distress tantrum your child will be hugely upset, the verbal and thinking functions of the brain become hijacked and all they can do is express their emotions (AKA scream and cry). This is vital to remember because it means that any attempts at reason and/or to rationalise events are a waste of your time; they also do nothing to soothe your child. Young children are not able to access the part of their brain that helps them think during these temper tantrums as the connections between parts of their brains are still developing.
During a distress tantrum, the best way to de-escalate the situation is to comfort your child, label their feelings, and avoid punishing them for their display of emotions. It is important to remember this is genuine distress for your child and if you meet them with empathy and understanding you will be helping to develop their brain’s stress regulation systems.

Little Nero Tantrums
In contrast, when a child is having a Little Nero Tantrum, they will not experience deep despair or anguish. They are able to talk and express themselves as they do not have stress chemicals flooding their brain. These tantrums are usually seen when a child does not get their own way. While it is important to always acknowledge your child’s feelings, you must also stick to your boundaries or rules. The message you are trying to convey is that you won’t give into their demands but you also care about their feelings and understand this situation is difficult for them. If you give in during a Little Nero tantrum you are in danger of teaching your child that the more of a fight they put up the more likely you are to give in. Phrases such as ‘I know you are really mad at mammy and that’s ok but you are not allowed another biscuit’, allow you to stick to your boundaries while labelling and validating their emotions. Try to eliminate the option of ‘no’ for your child. To do this introduce choice between two equally acceptable options. For example ‘would you like to brush your teeth before or after your bath’ or ‘would you like to put your hat or your coat on first’?

This article was contributed by a member of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations. For more information on this and other topics go to

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