Tag Archive for kids

What causes temper tantrums?

What causes temper tantrums?

What is behind your child’s tantrums and Meltdowns?


We have all seen it. In a grocery store, a bank or even on the road. Young children experiencing emotional meltdowns, throwing tantrums, crying and screaming. Embarrassed parents are forced to discipline their young child to help them to stay calm. What we don’t see is the underlying cause of this emotional outburst.

Perhaps you have heard of the ‘terrible twos’ and the age bracket defined by bad habits in young children. Tantrums are common during the second year of life when language skills are starting to develop. Because toddlers can’t yet say what they want, feel, or need, a frustrating experience may cause a tantrum. As language skills improve, tantrums tend to decrease. A parent’s ability to understand whether these tantrums, no matter the child’s years of age, are a result of environmentally independent variable or sensory processing disorders.

When a child is experiencing an emotional meltdown this is the symptom of their nervous system being prepped and absorbing varying amounts of stress. When children don’t develop social and emotional regulation as part of normal development, or they feel like they are not in control of their environment, they lash out over the smallest of things. It can be as simple as just saying a plain no and it will present itself as something so stressful and threatening to them that they can’t cope with it.

“I was speaking to someone the other day whose daughter has to have two spoons in her bowl every morning. Never uses the two spoons, but has to have it every morning. And you know, they’re the sorts of things that you get is this controlling behaviour is, you know, it has to be this way and I won’t give into it. Or if you say no, then you know, that’s where I’ve just lost control and that will set me over the edge there.” – Amanda Parson

Majority of us are born with the capacity to receive sensory information and organize it effortlessly into appropriate behavioural and physiological responses. The inability to process sensory information leads to sensory processing difficulties. And if not addressed early, these will manifest into more serious emotional mental health disorders. The biggest reason behind all this is stress and how the child’s brain starts to prepare itself in response to stress. More information starts to alert over responses that wouldn’t normally exist. This is where we get attention deficit disorder and anxiety disorders starting to emerge.

“56% of primary school age children now have diagnosed internal mental health disorders in Australia. 72% of high school students are diagnosed with depression. That’s not even an external mental health disorder. That’s just the internal ones.” – Amanda Parson

What’s the best way to determine if there are underlying sensory processing disorders?

“The best way is obviously to start with behavioural observations. Start to notice those things are there in a kid’s setting or your own kids at home. Fill out a sensory profile questionnaire. If you don’t have access to one, just give us a call and we’ll email you on. It just has five columns: always, frequently, occasionally, seldom or never. You just tick those and to answer different behavioural questions like how his hands are over his ears for loud noises that are acceptable for us, for example. And how, whether you see that frequently, occasionally, seldom or never or always. You’ll start to see ticks alive in different sensory areas. It’s broken into the different sensory categories of like visual, auditory and proprioceptive.” – Amanda Parson

There are 3 main types of sensory processing disorders: Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD), Sensory-Based Motor Disorder (SBMD), and Sensory Discrimination Disorder. These basically describe the difficulty processing sensory information into appropriate responses, difficulty controlling their movements and difficulty distinguishing between sensations respectively.

A few indicators of Sensory Processing Disorder are heightened response to sound, touch or movement, under-reactivity to certain sensations e.g. not noticing name being called, being touched, and high pain threshold, seeking increased amounts of auditory, tactile or movement input e.g. making noises to self, constantly touching objects and people, and being hyperactive, appearing to be in own world and difficulty regulating own behavioural and emotional responses; increased tantrums, emotional reactive, need for control, impulsive behaviours.

This diagnosis comes as a relief to most parents who have been confused by the behaviour of their children but not all confusing behaviour is related to sensory disorders and some behaviours are actually behavioural issues independent of sensory needs. Sensory processing issues should only be diagnosed by a qualified professional.












Avoiding Tantrums in children not affected by Sensory Processing Disorders:

Try to prevent tantrums from happening in the first place, whenever possible. Here are some ideas that may help:

  • Give plenty of positive attention. Get in the habit of catching your child being good. Reward your child with praise and attention for positive behaviour.
  • Try to give toddlers some control over little things. Offer minor choices such as “Do you want orange juice or apple juice?” or “Do you want to brush your teeth before or after taking a bath?” This way, you aren’t asking “Do you want to brush your teeth now?” — which inevitably will be answered “no.”
  • Keep off-limits objects out of sight and out of reach (ice cream is a repeat offender). This makes struggles less likely. Obviously, this isn’t always possible, especially outside of the home where the environment can’t be controlled.
  • Distract your child. Take advantage of your little one’s short attention span by offering something else in place of what they can’t have. Start a new activity to replace the frustrating or forbidden one. Or simply change the environment. Take your toddler outside or inside or move to a different room.
  • Help your child learn new skills and succeed. Help kids learn to do things. Praise them to help them feel proud of what they can do. Also, start with something simple before moving on to more challenging tasks.
  • Consider the request carefully when your child wants something. Is it outrageous? Maybe it isn’t. Choose your battles.
  • Know your child’s limits. If you know your toddler is tired, it’s not the best time to go grocery shopping or try to squeeze in one more errand if you want to prevent temper tantrums.

A survival guide to starting ‘Big School’!

A survival guide to starting ‘Big School’!


Starting school can be an exciting, positive and joyous time for some. However for others, the adventures of starting big school can be daunting, overwhelming and not the happy time that was expected. You may have prepared your child well for the transition to big school by making it familiar to them and getting them into a good routine. Your child may have loved school orientation, excitedly shopped for their school supplies, enjoyed practicing eating out of their lunch box and danced around the house in their new school uniform. But what if this changes once your child starts school? What happens when your once excited child starts to cry at school drop off, say they feel sick, clings to you like a Koala, or even refuses to go to school? What does this mean for your child…….and you???

If this sounds familiar to you, then I want you to know that you are not alone. It is normal for children to fear the unknown and stress about leaving the secure and nurturing home environment and most importantly their parent/s or caregivers.

It is called ‘Separation Anxiety’ and many children experience this when starting school. Some children have it from day one whilst others may develop it after a few weeks. Some have it for a few weeks, some for just a few days.

Let’s look at the big picture……….

It is important to remember that school is a new environment, with new rules and expectations, it’s filled with unfamiliar faces, the playground is huge, the day is long, the work is challenging and the toilet block is a long way away…….Phew! Sounds scary don’t you think? As parents I think it’s important to sometimes put yourself in your child’s shoes, to help understand what they are thinking and feeling.

For instance, imagine starting a new job? It’s a new environment, with a new boss who Success-kid-just-started-new-job-190
has different expectations, the office is filled with unfamiliar faces, the day is long, the work is new and challenging! Again, sounds scary don’t you think? As adults we too can get nervous and anxious in a new environment, but most of us have the emotional maturity and intelligence to rationalize our feelings and calm ourselves so that we can settle into our new role efficiently.

We can call a supportive friend or partner during the day to debrief and bolster our spirits and due to life experience, we just know that things will feel better with time. Our little ones don’t have this life experience or maturity and may need our help to adjust.

Transition tips for you and your child………..

First and foremost it is imperative that your little munchkin see’s YOU as a calm and
consistent source of support. This might be an emotionally challenging time for you too (no-one likes seeing their child upset), but if you can follow these suggestions, chances are you will be using the ‘kiss and drop’ method sooner rather than later!

1. Pack a piece of home into their school bag – put a familiar item from home belonging to them self or mum!

2. Avoid the morning rush – pack bags the night before and get uniforms ready!

3. Create Charts for getting ready in the morning – Get dressed, comb hair, make bed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, put on shoes, grab your backpack — and out the door! – Use images and words!

4. Set timer or play some tunes to teach time management when getting ready!

5. Use role play – act out what to do if you have to go to the bathroom during class, if you want to ask the teacher a question or what to do if another child is teasing you!

6. Use a calendar to show them the days of the week V’s the weekend!

7. Develop a consistent morning and evening routine – go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time!

8. Get dressed before breakfast!

9. Pack similar snacks and lunches each day – let your child choose what they want the night before!

10. Explain the drop off procedure so they know what to expect!

11. Don’t hang around at school or prolong the goodbyes!

12. Don’t leave without saying goodbye!

13. Even if your child starts crying, don’t linger because it will make it worse. (Don’t you cry until you’re out of sight!)!

14. Avoid major lifestyle changes and too many extra curricular activities in the first term of starting school – by week 5 most kids are exhausted!

15. Pick your child up on time and choose a regular meeting spot together!

16. Have a special after-school snack and chat!

17. Use what your kid loves as a reward – EG: getting ready on time and without fuss = TV, computer, ipad!

18. Create a special goodbye ritual to signify that its time for you to go. EG: a silly handshake or phrase like. , “See ya later alligator”!

19. Validate your child’s emotions – tell them it’s OK to feel nervous and worried and give examples of when you felt the same!

20. Make ‘school’ a dinnertime subject and encourage kids to talk about what they’re feeling!

21. Celebrate the first day, week and/or month of school as a huge milestone they have achieved – do a special activity or cook a special dinner!

22. Your child might be grumpy and tired for the first few weeks. If tantrums or bad behaviour escalates, validate how they are feeling but remind them that it is not an excuse to misbehave!

23. Work with your child’s teacher! Most teachers are happy to escort children into class and help you to leave!

24. Keep in touch with the teacher to check how they are during the day and if they are settling quicker as the weeks roll on.

Final Note – If your child’s anxiety about school continues to cause them significant distress, and impairs their social, academic, and daily functioning, for one month or more, it is advised that you speak with a psychologist to further investigate and tailor strategies to suit your child’s individual needs.

cartoon-school-kids-in-uniform By Lainie Opitz (Child and Family Psychologist) – 29/01/2016



The Importance of Starting School Competent and Confident

Is my child ready for school? It is the big question we are asked by so many parents. Unfortunately there is no single answer; there are multiple factors that determine whether a child is ready to embark on this significant chapter in their life. What we do know is that it is important for a child to not just be prepared cognitively for the academic demands of school, but also to have sufficient physical ability and have developed social and emotional resilience to survive all of the new challenges of ‘big school’.














Social-Emotional Competence

As adults we can relate to how difficult it can be to focus on a task or maintain motivation when we are feeling anxious, emotional or dealing with conflict. Similarly, children who lack social awareness or emotional coping strategies are more likely to find themselves in regular social conflict that will impact their ability to focus in the classroom and achieve academic success.[1] Kindergarten teachers have reported that children who have difficulty with emotional expression and regulation are predicted to be ‘less eager to learn about the world, literacy and numeracy and are less likely to persist or participate cooperatively’.[2] Studies have shown that children who are taught social and emotional skills prior to commencing school ‘enjoy school more, are able to focus more in class and score significantly better (11% on average) on academic achievement tests’.[3] Evidence also suggests that a higher level of emotional regulation at the start of the school year is associated with better adjustment to school and overall positive outcomes at the end of the school year.


Fine Motor Skills

‘Fine motor skills among pre-school aged children are among the best predictors of later performance on standardised achievement tests in the first grade and at the end of primary school’. [4]

Rather than allocating all of their brainpower to remember how to spell a word or thinking of what to write next in their story, children with a deficit in fine motor skills will be required to use a lot of their cognitive effort just to control their pencil on the page. If a child lacks speed or endurance in their writing, they will take longer than their peers to complete writing tasks, may regularly leave tasks incomplete and subsequently fall behind in class.

Fine motor skills are also essential for children to have independence outside the classroom. A child with poor fine motor ability may have to find a teacher every time they need to unzip their school bag, tie their shoelaces or open a packet of food at recess. Evidence suggests that children with a deficit in their fine motor skills are more likely to demonstrate emotional and behavioural issues as well as low self-esteem often due to being ridiculed by peers. [5]


Gross Motor Skills

Adequate gross motor skills are necessary for children to carry out tasks that make up the school day. These include carrying a heavy school bag, walking between classes, maintaing an upright posture at the table and keeping up in sports class. A deficit in gross motor skills can impact a child’s academic performance. For example, if a child has low core or postural muscle tone, they will find it difficult to maintain an appropriate posture at their desk, slump in their chair, or lean their head on their hand, which will have an impact on their ability to complete tabletop tasks. Poor endurance can lead to a child becoming fatigued early in the school day, which will affect their level of focus and attention in the classroom.

Gross motor ability also has a significant impact on a child’s social development in the early school years. Playground interactions between children are predominantly made up of physical play; so if a child can’t run fast enough to keep up with their peers or return a ball to their friend, they are likely to be left behind. Studies of kindergarten children has concluded that children with well-developed motor skills are more likely to succeed in physical games and activities, which can increase self-confidence and respect among peers. Children with less adequate gross motor skills are more likely to experience aggression, fear-anxiety, hyperactivity, distractibility and victimization.[6]


Kids OT runs School Readiness classes throughout the year to equip preschoolers with the necessary tools to start primary school competent and confident. The classes aim to enhance the following skills:

  • Fine Motor – developing fine motor strength and endurance, maintaining a dominant hand and appropriate pencil grasp, writing letters and numbers, tying shoelaces, cutting and pasting.
  • Gross Motor – developing muscle tone and the ability to motor plan new movements. Run, jump, hop, balance, throw and kick a ball.
  • Social Skills – learn typical playground games, how to introduce yourself, initiate play, take turns and collaborate and build resilience to cope with losing.


Contact Kids OT if you have a child starting school and would like to receive suggestions or advice from an Occupational Therapist to support your child’s development and transition.

[1] Herndon, K., Bailery, S., Shewark, E., Denham, S., Bassett, H. (2013). Preschoolers’ emotion expression and regulation: relations with school adjustment. The Journal of Genetic Psychology: research Theory on Human Development, 174

[2] Shields, A., Dickstein, S., Seifer, R., Giusti, L., Magee, K., Spritz, B. (2001) Emotional competence and early school adjustment: a study of preschoolers at Risk. Early Education and Development, 12

[3] Goleman, D. (2008). Success: The rest of the story. Accessed online 6 Nov 2015 atwww.danielgoleman.info/blog/2008/12/22/success-the-rest-of-the-story/.