Your child's tantrums are actually his way of calming down

Your child's tantrums are actually his way of calming down

When you see your child's tantrums getting out of hand, you should know that they are basically asking you to give them heavy work. Read on to know.

A child’s tantrums can be the emotional equivalent of a storm — out of control, strong and fierce. And when he is in the middle of flinging his body around, yelling and throwing things at you, it can be tough not to throw one of your own. 

Have you ever wondered why children throw tantrums? Are these children just being difficult or is there a more logical reason? 

Surprisingly, tantrums — believe it or not—have been proven to be a child’s way of calming down. Yes, you read that right!

A child’s tantrum is actually his way of taking it easy 

You may know about the five senses: smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing. But there are two more that act like sensory systems in the body. And, they are often responsible for such “rowdy” behaviour. 

These are the vestibular (provides sensory information about motion to the brain) and proprioceptive (provides information about body’s position and movement to the brain) systems of our bodies. 

Tamara Duff, a Paediatric Occupational Therapist explains these concepts (especially proprioceptive) can also be used as a calming influence during a child’s tantrum. 

“There are receptors in our muscles that give the brain feedback about where our limbs and body parts are in space, without us having to rely on our vision. Like when I pass a pen between my hands behind my back; this is the proprioceptive system in use,” Duff says

She further explains that when proprioception is poor, children rely more on their vision and touch for feedback. “This then leads to inattention and ‘busy-ness,'” she shares. 

So what can a parent do when the child’s tantrums are in full swing? 

Duff suggests that during this time, one must assign them heavy work. They use their own proprioception mixed with other senses to get busy and that deviates their mind from wrongful behaviour. 

child's tantrums

There’s more to your child’s tantrums than you ever imagined!

Heavy work can calm a child’s tantrum 

“Heavy work can assist with calming children who; either directly or indirectly, seek proprioceptive input… It assists the proprioceptive system to get organised, and in turn provide the correct feedback so that we don’t have to actively seek it, or rely on other body systems to compensate,” she further explains. 

So when your child is feeling restless, jumping on the sofa, throwing pillows on the floor, or even squeezing their bodies into confined spaces, they are basically asking you to give them heavy work. (We’ll tell you more about this shortly.) This can balance out their feedback system.

child's tantrums

A heavy soft toy that weighs down your child as he sleeps can also count as heavy work, and help prevent a child’s tantrums. | Image courtesy: Stock image

It is also common for occupational therapists to suggest heavy work to your kids, to calm their nerves. 

“It’s common for occupational therapists to use heavy work to improve sitting posture, to encourage weight bearing through the feet, developing a pencil grip and improving bilateral coordination activities. Proprioceptive input can also help with sleep — and who doesn’t perform better when they are getting enough rest?” she says. 

But how do you assign heavy work to your kids? Duff has the answer. 

What kind of heavy work can calm a child’s tantrums? 

Heavy work doesn’t necessarily mean labour. It could just be simple things that add some physical weight to your child’s restless body. For instance, if your kid sleeps with a slightly heavy blanket, it can calm down their restless legs. 

Duff lists some easy “heavy work” ideas that may work in preventing your child’s tantrums. This is especially true if you often find them restless and think they might be seeking a sensory input:

  • Swinging on a swing. In this heavy work, they use their entire body to actively push the swing back and forth.
  • Hanging upside down. If your child likes to hang on monkey bars, he will use his upper body strength to work around.
  • Household chores. Another easy easy option is to help you with household chores such as folding clothes, pushing a laundry basket or even vacuuming a few areas.
  • Playing with stretchy fabrics and playdough. If you often find your child restless, you can give him or her a stretchy fabric to play with. Alternatively, you can also use resistance bands.
  • Pushing a cart or wheelbarrow. This activity is similar to a household chore where he may use not only his body, but also his intellect to walk a straight path.
  • Swimming and exercising. Often described as the best activity for a child, exercising and physical play of any form can be quite beneficial as well. Kids engage both their mind and body, and are always active participants in play. 
  • Playing in a therapy swing. For some special cases, the occupational therapist may suggest a therapy swing. This is especially for a child’s vestibular system. A recent study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science also proved that, “Improving the integration of the vestibular system through the use of swings resulted in the improvement of the subject’s postural control, movement, exploration, and emotional well-being.”

So the next time you notice your child being excessively restless or throwing a tantrum, try giving them heavy work. If you see a calmer and more composed child, it’s  only because now he is doing what his body wants him to do. 


Sources: Kidspot, NCBI, Medicinenet

ALSO READ: Healing through temper tantrums

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Written by

Deepshikha Punj

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