The makings of a positive friendship

CHILDREN | 26 MAR 2019

My Child has “Outbursts”

Two questions I get asked a lot are: “how do I stop my child having outbursts?” and: “what do I do when they behave like this?” Often these questions are asked by parents or carers feeling exasperated and overwhelmed.

The good news is that you do make a difference. It’s not about getting rid of the behaviour (when you do, another arises!) but helping children build self-awareness and self-regulation.

When will they stop?

It takes time for self-regulation to develop in a child. You need to be adaptable to their growth. This includes responses to breaches of behavioural codes and the way you react to emotional outbursts. The foundation for flexible parenting is a
process, not a set of tools like you might find in articles with titles like “the 5 best ways to calm your child”.

Expressing Emotions

A child needs to express their emotions and explore that expression of them in a safe nurturing environment – one where the whole child is supported with love.

When we feel safe our brains are relaxed enough to interpret the world openly and fearlessly; to develop the courage to explore and create through the senses our perceptions of the world and who we are.

Safe Parenting

Children need to be supported to express emotions in a contained manner to keep themselves and others safe. They will then be able to apply these same boundaries in their expanding social worlds. Children’s capacity to develop skills to negotiate these complexities is dependent on our help in building self-awareness and regulation.

When everyone is calm!

To build self-awareness, focus on opportunities for conversations daily.
For example:

  • “Do you realise you get angry quickly when you are hungry?” This concept is explored through discussions around eating, helping them identify earlier ‘hunger’ feelings in the body, planning the day with food, maintaining energy levels, and talking bout how food can improve concentration, mood, sleep, and physical wellbeing.

Keeping the top brain on

Learning to keep your top brain on helps keep the physiological system calm; and vice versa.

  • Create links by being aware of, and open to, discussing the same things you understand in your own behaviour, “I’m sorry I have been snappy and irritable today, I didn’t sleep well last night”.
  • Pay attention to your body language, tone of voice, and words.

Building values

Each time emotions such as anger, love, guilt, shame, and courage are explored we can start to see how moral compasses are built.

Story telling of experiences, over and over, helps children understand the nature of themselves and life in constant motion.

  • Share an experience of friendship (it might be recent) or a childhood memory. This can be an interesting conversation starter. Children love to hear about your life, especially your experiences as a child, as it creates visual representations for them through shared emotions.

Developmental stages

Children will experience enormous change as they develop. In each developmental stage they are learning through repetition and laying neural pathways. How we manage distress and “outbursts” with children in the first 12 years of their lives will significantly impact the next four, and so on.

Use age appropriate language and negotiation skills to create understanding of how behaviours manifest; differentiating between the behaviour and who we are, empowering children and minimising shame:

  • “It’s ok to feel angry and sad when we feel hurt by our friends” becomes a discussion about what being a good friend looks like and how to communicate to others when they do things we don’t like, for example, “I feel sad when you tell me I can’t play with you today”. We can then discuss with our children other reasons their friends may do this to see it
    from their friends’ point of view and provide alternatives to the one meaning of “they don’t like me”.
  • “I’m sorry I have been snappy and irritable today, I didn’t sleep well last night” becomes a discussion about stress and the activities you might do regularly like walks on the beach and other routines. Talk about why we do them and the benefits.


Remember your child and you are unique, and each child learns differently. You can have a completely different relationship with your child when you understand the causes of outbursts, and how to build self-soothing, self-awareness, and calm.

Tip: Where ever possible create opportunities for your child to have experiences of success and self-mastery.

The meaning that children give to situations can be better understood from beginning to end in language and concepts they can relate to.

The school environment is structured around individuals functioning in relational systems. We can help our children negotiate these complexities through developing perceptions of the world which are outside of their own view point, ensuring we consistently send the message that “you are not your behaviours”, and helping them understanding the links physically,
physiologically, emotionally, and cognitively to develop a process within which to regulate.

Janine Lord

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