Terrible tantrums and the soothing effects of Zumbini®!

“No, no, no, no, no, no, NOOOO!!!!!!!!!!”

Or, maybe, “MIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE!!!!!!!”

Or it could be as simple as throwing their tiny but oh-so-resilient bodies on the floor of the checkout line at the grocery store, legs and arms in motion, and sobbing as if the world were coming to an end (although this particular performance does NOT seem to be coming to an end!).

Face it, we have ALL seen a child throwing a tantrum. Even in public. Ugh. Especially in public.

Before we had children of our own, we looked at the poor mother or father of the young anarchist and we either shook our heads in pity, or we looked down our noses at the sucker for a parent, with distaste. Seriously, can’t they control their children any better than that? Ew.

Well, times change, and if by now you have become a parent, or have people close to you who are parents, you may be a little less critical of that helpless caregiver. Controlling the tantrum of a toddler is NOT as easy as one may think!

Maybe you are one of the fortunate few, and your angelic child has never made a scene or had a meltdown in public……. But if you are like me, you may know that feeling of wanting to pretend like you don’t know the very loud, albeit small, human being next to you pitching a fit!

When I decided to do a little more research into the “why’s” and “what’s” and “how’s” of tantrums, I can tell you, I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief when I came across an article entitled: “Toddlers Throw Tantrums Because of their Genes- and Not Bad Parenting”. Whew! I feel better already! Fortunately, this was not the only article I came across that said pretty much the same thing. Children between the ages of (about) 18 months and 4 years old, are simply “hardwired to misbehave”, says Michael Potegal, Ph. D and pediatric neuropsychologist at the University of Minnesota. Did you know that the LAST part of the brain to develop is this area called the prefrontal cortex? Sounds complicated. It’s gray. It’s matter. It’s slow to mature. Anyway, this area is the part of the brain that controls, yes, CONTROLS, social behavior and emotion. The fact that it is still soft and mushy and not quite evolved, allows children to grasp, and master, a new language much more efficiently than adults. Bonus! It’s a kind of barter if you will, future language skills and verbal comprehension in exchange for behavior. Not a bad trade in the long run, but awfully hard on new mamas!

So, no, our babes cannot yet control their behavior. And while it seems ironic, yes, they have this knack for language, but these 1- 3 year olds in particular, cannot yet communicate with you using more than 2 or 3 words at a time. This is frustrating for them, when they want to tell you something and you just do not get it. Then there are the coping skills. Ray Levy, PhD, a Dallas-based clinical psychologist and co-author of Try and Make Me! Simple Strategies That Turn Off the Tantrums and Create Cooperation, has been quoted to say, “Young kids — namely those between the ages of 1 and 4 — haven’t developed good coping skills yet. They tend to just lose it instead.”

There ARE some things you can do to help ease the holy terror who abides with you. First, know that on average, children between 15 months and 32 months, have tantrums once or twice a day. Yes. Daily. So relax. You are not a bad parent. Tantrums peak around 30 months, so do not freak out when your two and a half year old has a melt down in the middle of your birthday celebration. Many of the best ways of dealing with a tantrum are logical, but not always easy. Ignoring the little monster is often a good strategy. Or giving them a little space to work out. Sometimes they just need to “get it out” in a safe space, and then figure out, on their own, how to get it back together. Hugging sometimes works! That is good for the both of you! A BIG strong hug! A hug that makes your out of control child feel safe and secure. Can you say “oxytocin”? Or maybe simply figuring out what the “need” is. It is possible they just could not communicate it to you, but if you can figure it out, the problem may be solved- especially if it is food or sleep! Staying calm is also really important. Breathe in. Breathe out.

But how about this? In addition (and this technique is my favorite of all, for obvious reasons), there was a recent published study talking about the positive effects of the Zumbini® program, and regular attendance to Zumbini® classes, on tantrums! Yes, it is true. Elizabeth Thrower of the University of Montevallo and Benjamin Eller of the Los Angeles College District, recently conducted a study on the effects of long term participation in the Zumbini® program! In this published study, the children were between the ages of 5 months and 60 months and they all participated in Zumbini® classes on a weekly basis for an average of 8.5 months. Tantrums were measured before and after taking part in the classes. Well, OMG! The results were pretty cool! According to this control group of 42 kiddos and caregivers, they averaged 2.22 tantrums a day BEFORE starting the Zumbini® program. After a few months, the tantrums went down to an average of 1.5 a day! Ok, so the class did not completely eliminate all trace of the terrible two-year old temper, BUT it does show that Zumbini® did help! It is hard to pinpoint the actual reasons for the decline (you may say, oh the kids got older, but remember, an equal number of the children STARTED the program at only 5 months old, far too young to even have tantrums, so these were the perfect babies who started out with zero tantrums and then added a few here and there!). So, what are the reasons behind the reduction in uproars? The study advised some of the factors could include, and I quote:

  • a child getting out some of the energy that is usually high among youngsters
  • bonding time with their parents
  • the chance to spend time with other children
  • the intellectual and physical benefits of exercise and release of endorphins

Oh yeah, and the parents all agreed that after a Zumbini class their children slept better! They passed out 60% SOONER than before they started the class. Maybe sleeping better kept them from being a crank later on!

So, we seem to have come to the conclusion that most tantrums really are NOT our fault, fellow adults. Thank goodness! A little extra ZEN moment, maybe a hug, and especially a time of bonding and singing and dancing together, these are all pretty great ways to ease those tantrums, even if we cannot erase them!