Explosive Behaviour: Why it is happening and how can we help our children cope

May 26, 2020

Caron Irwin

The pandemic comes with a lot of change and uncertainty, causing children to feel many difficult emotions. Children are trying to navigate everything that is going on and explosive behaviours (aka tantrums, screaming, yelling, crying, fits of rage) are normal expressions of emotion during this time as kids try to cope. 

Why are these behaviours happening?

The two main reasons why explosive behaviours are manifesting in our children right now are that they are (i) confused about what is going and when it will end; and (ii) frustrated by the changes that the pandemic has caused to their life (i.e. not being able to see friends and participate in activities). These are overwhelming feelings and our kids might not have the skills or development to be able to understand and manage them. One result can be that they use explosive behaviours to express themselves instead.

Everyone’s world has been turned upside down, especially the world our children live in. The structure of their days (school, extra-curricular activities, playdates) no longer exists. It is confusing for kids to not have a predictable routine that helps guide them through their day. It is also confusing (especially for young children, 2-4 years old) to be home all day with their parents in their space, but not be able to spend constant time together because of other demands on parents such as working from home. Kids are egocentric. They see us home with them, but they don’t understand that we have many things that we need to get done in the day in addition to looking after and playing with them and this creates confusion. 

Kids are also frustrated with the current situation (aren’t we all!). What many thought would be short term isolation, has turned into a marathon which has been emphasized by the cancellation of the school year in many jurisdictions. Our children are realizing that this pandemic is a lasting thing rather than a temporary inconvenience and it is difficult for them to accept and adapt to the new normal. They are missing their friends, activities, school — their old life. The fact that it isn’t all coming back anytime soon is frustrating.

How can we help our kids cope?

There are three strategies that can help children cope with their new normal and manage the emotions that they are experiencing.

Playtime

1. Freedom Activities!

Now more than ever, children are expected to self-regulate a lot throughout their day. Being patient and regulating your emotions is an important skill but it is also very challenging, especially for children. In order for children to learn and practice this important skill, we must provide space a few times each day for our kids to engage in self-directed activities that encourage them to just be free — no structure, rules or parameters. Some examples of self-directed play include: scribbling with crayon, running, jumping to music on the trampoline and throwing a ball against the wall. These activities provide our kids with an opportunity to release all the pent up energy and emotions that they may be experiencing, which better enables them to be patient and self-regulate when we need them to.

2. Express Emotions

Our kids have a lot of emotions inside of them, but they may not have the vocabulary or understanding on how to share these emotions with others. It is important to find age appropriate outlets that our children can use each day to help them express themselves. Some examples could be:

  • Writing or drawing about how they feel in a journal each day.
  • Emojis! Print out a whole bunch of emojis and have your child pick out the one that they are feeling.
  • Feeling cards or books — show your kids the many different emotions that they can feel, point to one and share why you are feeling that way and then ask your kids to do the same.

Books

3. Connect with your children each day

Create a ritual that you do with your child each day to help them feel connected to you. The ritual should be something simple that you can consistently each day. Maybe it is sharing a joke on your daily walk, having a pre-dinner dance party.  

 

Caron Irwin is the founder of Roo Parenting – a consulting service that provides support to parents as they navigate the ups and downs of raising their children. She is the mother of three children and a Certified Child Life Specialist with a background in Child Development and learning through play. For ten years, she has been supporting children and families through illness at Canada’s largest children’s hospital. She holds a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Studies from Ryerson University. Follow @rooparenting for daily parenting tips and strategies.


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