Rafael Guerrero


"Talking to a child at their eye height conveys a feeling of trust and security."

How to handle tantrums

Empathy is one of the concepts you need to teach your children. The word comes from the Greek "empathos", which means "suffering with another". Imagine you're walking down the street when you look up and see a tightrope walker who's walking across a cable that runs between two buildings. If you stop and think about your emotions for a moment you'll find you feel quite scared, but not because your own life is at risk. What you're experiencing is empathy, which is the ability to suffer with another person and experience the same emotions as them. A common way to express this is that, "Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes." That's a good definition; however, I'd add that empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes whilst being aware that they're not your own shoes. It's like saying, I understand how you feel, but I'm not experiencing the situation myself. I understand your emotions, but I'm not in the same situation.

In order to experience empathy, there needs to be "another person". For example, a child can learn to ride a bike because they're taught how to do it by someone else (or several other people). It's exactly the same with empathy. Human beings need other people in order to develop this skill. There are three different types, or levels, of empathy. Firstly, there is emotional empathy. Then, there is another level that's a bit more complex as it involves concepts that only humans experience such as cognition, judgment, thoughts, etc. In other words, everything to do with relationships and the cortex. The third and last level of the empathy is the ability to change perspective. This is when you put yourself in another person's position, but add something in relation to yourself.

How to teach your children to be sensitive and empathetic. You teach a child to swim by showing them what to do and then letting them learn how to master this motor behavior a little bit at a time. With empathy, it's exactly the same. In the words of Mother Teresa, "Don't worry about what you tell your children, be concerned instead about what you do."

It's round about the age of four or five that children develop a mature sense of empathy. It's something that requires a great deal of time to acquire. Thereafter, children develop another skill closely related to empathy know as "theory of mind". This is the ability to put yourself in another person's place and to be able to understand their emotions, ideas, thoughts and expectations.

The best time and place for children to learn about frustration is with their parents. However, you have to help them learn how to deal with it. You can't just make sure they never experience frustration and suffering if you want them to become independent and be able to cope with the really frustrating situations they'll come up against when they're adults.

Children learn how to deal with frustration by being frustrated. They learn to cope with feeling frustrated by being angry. Also, parents are able to offer kids strategies to help them work through their emotions. In order to be able to use the tools you have to deal with a frustrating situation, you must first be able to see it for what it is. You'll find it difficult to manage your emotions if you have not been given the tools to do so by someone else. However, in order to use these tools, you must first acknowledge that you feel frustrated rather than sad. It's not just that you feel frustrated and that's it, but that you feel frustrated because you didn't get the job you want, or the place on the Master's course you wanted to study.

Human beings are preprogramed to learn because they have cognitive needs. We all want to learn. We all want to be the best version of ourselves. Version 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, etc. So, we all tend to get better at things, as we have a need for self-improvement by, say, being promoted at work, taking on a new role within the family or through personal development.

More about Rafael Guerrero

Rafael Guerrero has a Degree in Clinical and Health Psychology from the Complutense University of Madrid and a PhD in Education. He wrote the books 'Emotional education and attachment', which is a guide to help children and young people become emotional experts. Mr. Guerrero often gives talks about how to improve relationships with children and alleviate the effects of the dreaded tantrum.
How to manage tantrums in small children.

Tantrums are the way children express anger, rage, or that they don't want to do something. They're the most adaptive methods of showing their emotion that children have, as you can't ask them to behave like an adult because they're not. That's why they throw themselves on solid surfaces such as the floor. Because, what they're looking for is normality and stability. There are two types of tantrums. Some are controlled by the lower brain, while others are governed by the upper brain; however, it's sometimes difficult to differentiate between the two. Lower brain tantrums are associated with needs. Essentially, they're a child's way of showing that one of their needs has not been met. Most tantrums fall into this category and must be dealt with. You can't just ignore a child in this state. Upper brain tantrums are regulated by children themselves, albeit unconsciously. These types of tantrums are more often seen in older children whose frontal cortex is already well-developed and who are able to plan a course of action, albeit at a very basic or unconscious level. They behave in a certain way in order to get what they want, so these types of tantrums should be ignored. Once the tantrum is over, the best thing to do is to speak to the child to understand how they're feeling. Then, you should try to give them resources or alternatives so they know what to do next time they're in a similar situation. If you give them the tools they need to implement a more suitable strategy, they won't have to resort to falling on the floor, shouting or engaging in other disruptive behavior. The first thing to do when a tantrum occurs is to calm the child down. You can do this by connecting with them emotionally, being empathetic, trying to understand what they're going through and by validating their emotions, etc. Then, you have to redirect their behavior by giving them strategies and by asking them questions such as, "What about if...?' "What do you think we can do next time this happens?" Foresight is a very important defense mechanism. It can be a good idea to talk to a child beforehand about what will happen after they have a tantrum.

"As a parent, there's nothing worse than knowing that your child is sad."

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