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How should I deal with my child's emotional outbursts?

It's common for frustrated parents to frame emotional outbursts as a moral failing. Parents may be tempted to express to a child that failure to control emotions is morally wrong because it involves defiance. This strategy will likely backfire, because the more you make your child feel wrong, the more negative emotions will pile up and the more unmanageable his emotions will become. One way of understanding this is the "container model." According to this model, you can think of each person as having a container that allows them to hold a certain amount of emotional experience. If too many powerful emotions fill the container, the person can no longer hold them, and a breakdown of sorts occurs. In children, this breakdown looks like a temper tantrum. So if your child is already struggling with a powerful negative emotion -- for example, jealousy of a brother -- and you tell him that the emotion is bad, he then has to contain the feeling of being jealous of his brother, the feeling of guilt about being jealous, and the feeling of sadness at being misunderstood. This is a recipe for a behavioral breakdown.

Thinking of your child with the container model in mind can help your understanding of him. Consider the following. A child's container is much smaller than an adult's, which means that behavior that would be terrible in an adult is often actually appropriate for a child. Not only is the child's container smaller --meaning that he has less capacity for tolerating emotions -- but his brain is less developed. He cannot understand the world as well as an adult can, so he is more prone to being frustrated and experiencing negative emotion.
The Gift of ADHD: How to Transform Your Child's Problems into Strengths

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The Gift of ADHD: How to Transform Your Child's Problems into Strengths

As a parent, you already know that your child has many gifts. What you may not know is that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) related symptoms—the very qualities that lead him or her...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.