The Importance of Conscious Breathing in Temper Tantrums

Conscious breathing during temper tantrums is very useful in helping children and adults to calm down and think clearly. Keep reading!
The Importance of Conscious Breathing in Temper Tantrums
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 17 February, 2023

Temper tantrums are common in children, especially between the ages of 2 and 4. However, they’re not easy to handle. For parents, it’s a challenge to deal with this emotional overflow in children and, what’s more, have to do so under the gaze and judgments of those around them. Fortunately, there’s a really useful tool in this regard. Discover the importance of conscious breathing.

Surely on more than one occasion, you’ve felt helpless, frustrated, and overwhelmed by your child’s tantrum. Your child seems incapable of reasoning and you can’t calm them down by any means. You feel more and more anxious and end up losing control. Then, you yell at them, shake them, take them by the arm to take them home, or send them to their room until they calm down. If you can identify with this situation, we’ll tell you how conscious breathing can become your best ally.

What happens in the child’s brain during a tantrum?

A child screaming while her mom plugs her ears.
When children have tantrums, they suffer from an overflow of emotions that overshadows their ability to reason. This is a biological issue and is associated with their immaturity.

First of all, it’s essential to understand what children go through during a tantrum. It’s not that they’re trying to be naughty, rude, or manipulative. Rather, they’re at the mercy of emotions that they don’t know how to manage. No matter how much you ask your child to calm down or try to reason with them, they probably won’t be able to do it because they don’t yet have the cognitive maturity to do so.

When you don’t allow your child to eat a cookie, tell them it’s time to leave the park, or refuse to buy them a toy, they experience frustration. This is because they haven’t yet learned to tolerate it, their body goes into stress mode, and their emotional brain takes over.

The amygdala is activated and begins to release adrenaline, which incites action, and cortisol, which clouds thinking. In addition, the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for reasoning, logical thinking, and impulse control, shuts down. As the child grows older, these episodes begin to fade and the child will be better able to manage rage, frustration, or anger.

Conscious breathing during tantrums helps us to calm down

However, what happens is that many times, adults aren’t available to exercise this function of regulating the child. Many times, they themselves are overwhelmed, stressed, and out of control. Therefore, their own anxiety only brings more chaos to the situation and worsens the child’s discomfort.

This is why it’s key that parents know how to manage their own emotions and manage to remain calm during their children’s temper tantrums. For this, conscious breathing is an excellent tool, as it’s a simple and very effective exercise that can be practiced at any time and place.

By being calm, the parent can decide how they want to act, and how they want to respond to and accompany their child. In addition, through their behavior, they serve as a role model for the child. Children feel and resonate with the emotions of their parents, and the fact that you remain calm will be a great help for them. Also, by watching you breathe, they’ll learn to do so and thus acquire a wonderful tool to regulate their emotions.

A mother and daughter practicing conscious breathing.
With conscious breathing, you regain control of the body and reduce physiological activation. This, in turn, will help us to think more clearly and be able to own our actions.

Practice conscious breathing anywhere

To understand why conscious breathing is so effective, let’s remember that every emotion has three components: Physical or physiological, mental, and behavioral. Frustration, anger, or stress produce reactions in the body, such as accelerated heart rate and breathing, but they also trigger unpleasant thoughts and lead us to act impulsively. Breathing allows us to regain control of the body. Thus, we’ll no longer yell at the child, and they, in turn, can finally calm down and stop screaming or kicking.

How to practice this technique?

You’ll see that it’s very simple. All you have to do is stand with your back straight and start breathing slowly and deeply. Breathe in for about three seconds and then breathe out for about six seconds. The first few times, you can help yourself by closing your eyes to disconnect for a moment from the chaos outside and connect with your body.

It’s also very helpful to place one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen. Make sure that when you inhale, the air is directed toward the lower part of your lungs. Repeat this sequence several times and you’ll begin to notice how your body relaxes and your mind regains clarity.

If your child allows physical contact at this time, hold them next to you while you breathe. This will provide a nice, needed sense of calm. Also, when the tantrum’s over and the child can reason, you can teach them this exercise so that they also learn to use it every time they need it.

Calm down and help your child to calm down

As any parent knows, temper tantrums in children are frequent, as they’re not yet able to control their emotions. However, in order to calm them down, the adult must first transmit calmness. To do this, take into account these conscious breathing techniques and achieve a harmonious coexistence.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Chóliz, M. Técnicas para el control de la activación: relajación y respiración. Facultad de Psicología, Universidad de Valencia.
  • Díaz Pernas, P., & Bonet de Luna, C. (2005). Las rabietas en la infancia: qué son y cómo aconsejar a los padres. Revista Pediatría de Atención Primaria7(25).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.