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How To Stop A Tantrum With Science

By Sierra Black |

This simple trick can stop a tantrum in its tracks

This simple trick can stop a tantrum in its tracks

I spent the afternoon teaching neuroscience to my kids, ages 3 and 6.

I’m not one of these over achieving parents who needs her kids to memorize the scientific names of plants or do calculus in preschool. If you’d asked me yesterday if my kids needed a neuroscience lesson, I might have laughed at you.

Now I know better. Tina Payne Bryson has a cool post up on her blog, Parenting Matters, about how a very simple neuroscience lesson can help your kids control their own tantrums. This is actually incredibly cool. I loved it, my kids loved it. We had the calmest afternoon we’ve had in a long time.

What’s Bryson’s secret? She teaches kids to be STARS (her anagram for her method).

Bryson uses an extremely simple model of the brain when talking to kids. She just asks them to imagine that their brain has an upstairs and a downstairs. Your downstairs brain feels all your feelings, and sometimes gets so crowded with intense feelings that you explode into a tantrum.

Happily, there is also an upstairs brain. As Bryson explains it, this upstairs brain controls your thoughts. This is where the STARS come in.

With your upstairs brain, you can choose to be a STAR, and:

  • Stop
  • Think
  • Act
  • Reflect

Maybe the anagram is a little silly, but these are skills I’d like to be better at in my own life. Being able to teach them to  my kids so clearly and simply at such a young age seems like an immeasurable gift. Next I’m going to try it out on my husband.

Photo: beelerspace

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About Sierra Black


Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “How To Stop A Tantrum With Science

  1. Maggie says:

    What a cool idea!

  2. Tasha Scribbler says:

    This is pretty much what Cognitive Psychology and Dialectical Behavior Therapy teach us. :)

  3. Tina Payne Bryson says:

    Thanks, Sierra, for reading and linking to my blog. I’m glad to know about all the good work you and your colleagues are doing here!

    Also, I want to mention that my book THE WHOLE-BRAIN CHILD (co-authored with Dan Siegel) will be hitting the bookshelves in September. It’s full of lots of ideas like the one you mention above.

    Thanks again!

  4. michelle says:

    Um…this is an acronym, not an anagram.

  5. Libby says:

    Agreed on the acronym part. You would have to scramble tantram to make a new word to have an anagram.
    Also, I think you are trying to teach you children far too young how to “use” their frontal lobe when in fact they have very little “control” over this for quite some time. Tantrums are caused by needs not being met. Listen to your children and find out what they really need. Is it food, sleep, love? Basic needs not being met cause tantrums! They are primal in nature.

  6. Erica says:

    I think when children are having “tantrums” it’s really a flood of big feelings and it’s a great opportunity for us to connect with our child and provide them empathy. I do agree with the author that their downstairs brain has taken over, however in those moments I think children need help to reach their upstairs brains. Maybe more then just acronym part. When they are having “tantrums” this would be a great time to be emotional coaches and help them increase their emotional literacy. Emotional literacy is the ability to understand one’s emotions and to develop healthy ways of expressing them. Children are not born understanding their emotions and it’s our job to help them identify what they are feeling and to help them find strategies to express them appropriately. When they are upset we should help them identify their feelings. In the example of homework we can say “Your body is showing me that you may be feeling frustrated, is that right?” “Are you feeling anxious because you aren’t understanding how to do your homework?” Keep guessing until the child feelings understood. If the child is really young, you may just say “You are angry!” “You want ….. and you can’t have it.” I think as caretakers it is important for us to understand what is happening in their brains. When a child is in the middle of a “tantrum” they are really flooded with not only big feelings but the chemical cortisol in the brain. When this happens they can only access the Flight, Fight, or Freeze part of the brain or as the author says the downstairs brain. Logic (upstairs brain) cannot be accessed. We need to help their brain absorb the excess cortisol by regulating their bodies. May be a hug, may be pushing on something, may be hugging a plush toy. It’s different for every child. We have to do this first, else the child cannot hear us. They are too upset. I do agree with the author about understanding what is happening in the brain. I am also thinking it’s important to understand or map your child in the moment. If they are getting upset with homework there may be more going on. Are they hungry? Tired? Is the child having difficulty in school? What’s going on at home? Are parents fighting? Did the child have a conflict with a friend? It’s important for us to understand what else may be going on for the child. Often times it’s more then just homework. For more information I have found Echo Parenting and Education to be extremely helpful. They have not only helped me to understand children more, but to also help me understand myself. Especially in those moments of big feelings!

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