Behavior is communication telling you what skills your child needs to build. -Dr. Tina Bryson

127: Diagnosing the Root Cause of Meltdowns & How to Calm Tantrums with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson

Meltdowns start in the brain!

In many situations your child’s brain may perceive a large gap between demand and capacity, may be flooded with emotion and not able to access the logical processing left brain, or may be feeling unsafe or threatened, and any of those situations (and more) can be at the root cause of a meltdown.

When meltdowns occur, whether that’s a toddler tantrum, a teenage disgusted funk, or even an adult mom-splosion, knowing more about the brain can help us calm tantrums AND actually teach our children effectively. “Teach” is the root of “discipline,” after all, not punishment.

Connect to Calm Tantrums

We need to connect with our family members to help them learn and grow beyond meltdowns, and Dr. Bryson will help us do that in the most effective, brain-based way.

There is a reason for the meltdowns, and she’ll help us find the root cause today!

Strap on your science geek hat and get ready for a class in neuroscience for parents 101. You’ll learn about:

  • The different parts of our brain (left/right, upstairs/downstairs) and the roles they play, as well as why integrating the whole brain is so powerful in human development and behavior
  • Dr. Bryson’s definition of the goal of parenting (bet you never quite thought of it this way)
  • Why saying, “Let’s make a good choice now,” is a directive that’s literally impossible for kids to follow when they’re in meltdown mode
  • One possible reason that teenagers don’t share their feelings with their parents (this may be devastating to some of us because it’s not just an adolescent thing!)
  • The hope and encouragement for parents (spoiler: We don’t have to be perfect all the time. Spoiler #2: We should try our best to be intentional though.)
  • The fastest way to help our kids connect their brain back together (and thus calm a meltdown AND make it a teaching experience)
  • Why we don’t always have to fix things for our kids (and they don’t either)
  • When and why to use the phrase, “I’m right here with you,” often in parenting (and why that’s not permissive parenting)
  • How to balance boundaries with big emotions
  • Some tips to make dinnertime a better, healthier event for families (and in the process, raise better eaters)

I could listen to Tina teach all day, and I hope you can grab a piece of paper and take notes to help your own brain retain all this info. But even if you can’t, listen and try out some strategies with your own family – practice makes progress!!

Tina’s books are amazing, and after you listen I know you’ll want to get some from your local library or bookstore. If you prefer Amazon, here are some links to The Whole-Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline, as well as Tina’s newest Bottom Line for Baby, brain-based parenting strategies for babies and toddlers.

They include “refrigerator sheets” with a quick summary of key points for the whole book for folks like me who love to have something visible in my way as a reminder. I should start making those for our Healthy Parenting Connector episodes! (Should I? Would you ever print them?)

Can’t see the video? Watch Calm Tantrums With 3 Steps here on YouTube.

No time for the video? Here are the notes!

Strategies to Calm Tantrums With Dr. Tina Bryson

  • 0:20: Today I’m talking to Dr. Tina Bryson about connecting with our kids and discovering the root causes of meltdowns.
  • 1:34: Dr. Tina Bryson is a psychotherapist. She runs a clinic and is also an author and mom to three boys.

No matter what life throws at our kids, we need them to be resilient.

This free download will give you some practical and actionable steps to improve brain health and resilience.


  • 3:11: I think we all would say we’re the happiest when we’re with our families, but in the day-to-day: that might not always be the case. We aren’t always happy with our kids’ behavior and they aren’t always happy with ours!

Brain Based Parenting

  • 3:29: First, we get an overview of the whole-brained child philosophy.
  • 6:11: Dr. Bryson has studied brain science in depth. Particularly how our brain, mind, and relationships work together. Her studies changed the way she thought about her kids’ behavior and her job as their parent.

The relational experiences we give our children are the key to who they turn out to be. -Dr. Tina Bryson

  • 8:41: Every time my kid has a tantrum, behavior issue or I lose my temper that’s an opportunity to build connection and relationship.
  • 9:26: Have you ever heard to look at what your kid eats over the course of the week rather than a single meal to see how balanced their diet is? That’s how Dr. Bryson looks at mothering. There might be rough days, but over the course of the week how was your relationship with your child?

Paleovalley Meat Sticks

It can be hard to find healthy snacks that you can take with you on the go. When I want the convenience of a jerky stick, but want a healthy, protein-packed snack option, I grab Paleovalley meat sticks. Paleovalley ingredients have these high standards that you can feel good about:

100% grass fed beef sticks, pasture raised beef sticks

  • 100% Grass-Fed Beef & 100% Pasture-Raised Turkey
  • Never given antibiotics or hormones
  • Gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free
  • 0 grams of sugar*
  • Contains no artificial nitrates or nitrites
  • Non-GMO
  • Naturally fermented and contain gut-friendly probiotics!

*With the exception of Teriyaki, which contains 2 grams of sugar from Organic Honey.

These beef sticks and turkey sticks taste delicious! My favorite is the Jalapeño but my kids love Summer Sausage.

Use this link to get 15% off your order at Paleovalley. Read my Paleovalley Review to learn more!

  • 10:52: Dr. Bryson’s books are super easy to understand and explain to kids.

Brain Development 101

  • 11:42: Dr. Bryson gives us an overview of left brain/right brain integration.
  • 12:05: The left brain looks at details, asks the question “why?” and looks for cause and effect relationships.
  • 13:52: It’s a myth that the right hemisphere of the brain is more emotional and illogical. The right hemisphere processes emotions and sends and receives non-verbal messages.
  • 15:14: The right and left hemispheres are specialized for different things, but if they don’t work together as a whole there are problems. When we’re not integrated, we can be cut off from emotion or flooded by emotions. Each hemisphere has growth spurts separately. Dr. Bryson shares an interesting timeline of growth spurts.

What Causes Tantrums? 

  • 16:15: Between 3-5 are really the big tantrum years. Kids this age have so many emotions, but no ability to think logically.
  • 16:55: Imagine you don’t understand how cause and effect works, it would seem like things happen randomly out of nowhere! It can be so overwhelming to little kids who don’t even have the language to explain what they’re feeling.
  • 17:13: Another way to view tantrums is through the upstairs/downstairs brain. The higher structures of our brain are the upstairs and they take longer to build.
  • 17:35: The downstairs brain is all pretty much fully developed at birth. The upstairs brain isn’t fully developed until our mid-twenties. Dr. Bryson shows how to explain this to kids.
  • 19:13: When we get really emotional, the higher structures of our brain don’t function normally. This is often how tantrums emerge. We often give them instruction in the moment, but they literally aren’t capable of making choices when their upstairs brain is “offline.”
  • 20:07: When the pre-frontal cortex isn’t working, we’re functioning in a stress response. It can feel very stressful for a kid and they can’t understand what’s happening.
  • 20:43: The part of the brain that lights up when we’re in physical pain is also the same part that lights up in emotional pain. Do you respond the same way to your child’s expression of emotional pain as you do when a kid is physically hurt or do you blame or scold?

Brain Integration To Calm Tantrums

  • 21:36: When there’s a meltdown, what is the first step to brain integration? This doesn’t only apply to toddlers! You can do this with teens or even other adults! When someone is in the right brain tsunami of emotions, we often come in with left-brain responses. Listen in here to hear what the correct response would be. Learn more about the different levels of brain response like the lizard brain Dr. Bryson mentioned here.

We want our kids to understand, "When you are at your absolute worst, I'm here." -Dr. Tina Bryson

  • 23:39: Listen in here for an explanation of how to connect and redirect to calm a tantrum.

Connection is the quickest way to get the brain back into integration. -Dr. Tina Bryson

  • 24:46: Connect right brain to right brain. Use non-verbal cues like touch, tone of voice, or speed of speech. Dr. Bryson shares some specific phrases to use with teens vs toddlers. Read more about sensory processing disorders here.
  • 27:34: Dr. Bryson tells about a family she worked with to find the root cause of their child’s tantrums.

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If you’re worried about the white cast on your skin from zinc oxide sunscreen, check out my video on how to apply mineral sunscreen correctly to minimize it.

  • 28:09: If the demands of our environment and our capacity to navigate that are not matched up, there will be reactive behavior. This can be externalized, tantrums, aggression, fighting, or it can be internal, shut down, and depressed. When the child’s capacity and environmental demands are chronically ill-matched, that’s when ongoing behavior issues will surface. 

Calm Tantrums with Connection

  • 28:57: The first thing you want to do when your child is exhibiting ongoing behavior struggles is to approach with curiosity. Why is that gap there? Has there been trauma or a medical issue? Is there a learning challenge or processing disorder undiagnosed? 
  • 29:55: The intervention is to reduce the demands and build capacity

When a tantrum happens, remind yourself, "My kid needs help right now." -Dr. Tina Bryson

  • 30:40: Tantrums can easily become contagious. Pause for a moment to regulate yourself before entering a tantrum. You need to be the calm in the storm and help your child regulate. This is not coddling your child, you’re teaching them to self-regulate so that they can eventually do it for themselves.
  • 32:18: Our facial expression, tone of voice, and posture have the power to calm our child down or to further trigger a threat in their brain. 
  • 32:50: Dr. Bryson shares a strategy for staying calm during a tantrum. It’s super simple. She even tells you the two things to say to calm a tantrum.

How to Stop a Tantrum in its Tracks: 1. Get below eye level 2. Stop lecturing 3. Tell them "I'm right here with you."

  • 34:02: You don’t have to “fix” your child’s tantrums. All you have to do is be there with a calm presence and be empathetic. Our kids need us to walk with them through their big emotions. Our kids need to know that we can handle their emotions, they don’t need to hide them from us. 

Threat-based parenting builds no skills for the next time. -Dr. Tina Bryson

Practical Examples of How to Calm a Tantrum

  • 35:55: Dr. Bryson shares a specific example of how to deal with a kid who doesn’t want to go to bed

Wish you could control your stress instead of feeling like it’s controlling your life, your sleep, and your temper? 

Women react to stress differently than men and need special strategies!

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I was certified as a Stress Mastery Educator for this very reason – so I could bring HOPE to moms like me feeling like life is getting the better of them (and in my case, getting very angry about it). 

This course is VERY quick, consumable, and full of support to make it work in your busy life! 

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  • 37:05: Here’s another example including internal visuals to remain calm as the parent and the importance of holding boundaries. Coming alongside your child does not mean permissiveness and no limits. You can say “no” to a behavior, but “yes” to your child’s emotions and experience. If you aren’t sure how to apply these principles, definitely listen in here to see them in action!

Having boundaries helps our kids feel safe. -Dr. Tina Bryson

  • 39:47: Discipline is about teaching your child how to be self-disciplined. When a child is in the middle of a tantrum they are not in a receptive place. We need to connect to calm them down before they can listen.
  • 40:54: If your child doesn’t want to be held or comforted, don’t chase them down and force empathy on them. Make your presence and comfort available if they choose to accept it. There are other ways you can comfort a teenager than a hug. 

Calm Tantrums Through Your Body

  • 42:04: Kids have different responses to strong emotions. Some kids fight, some want to be alone, some get aggressive, others weepy. 

Paleovalley Meat Sticks

It can be hard to find healthy snacks that you can take with you on the go. When I want the convenience of a jerky stick, but want a healthy, protein-packed snack option, I grab Paleovalley meat sticks. Paleovalley ingredients have these high standards that you can feel good about:

100% grass fed beef sticks, pasture raised beef sticks

  • 100% Grass-Fed Beef & 100% Pasture-Raised Turkey
  • Never given antibiotics or hormones
  • Gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free
  • 0 grams of sugar*
  • Contains no artificial nitrates or nitrites
  • Non-GMO
  • Naturally fermented and contain gut-friendly probiotics!

*With the exception of Teriyaki, which contains 2 grams of sugar from Organic Honey.

These beef sticks and turkey sticks taste delicious! My favorite is the Jalapeño but my kids love Summer Sausage.

Use this link to get 15% off your order at Paleovalley. Read my Paleovalley Review to learn more!

If you want to feel relaxed, put your body in a relaxed state.  -Dr. Tina Bryson

  • 46:21: Yelling, aggression, and crying are a release for the nervous system. Two other things that provide this same release are laughing and movement
  • 47:29: Since this is Kids Cook Real Food we obviously have to ask a question about food! Here’s a brain-based strategy to encourage healthy eating in your kids.

We are meaning-makers for our children. Making dinnertime positive is the first step to help our kids be healthy eaters. -Dr. Tina Bryson

More Resources for Calming Tantrums in Your Family

Dr. Tina BrysonDr. Tina Bryson is a psychotherapist and the Founder/Executive Director of The Center for Connection, a multidisciplinary clinical practice, and of The Play Strong Institute, a center devoted to the study, research, and practice of play therapy through a neurodevelopment lens.

She is the author of Bottom Line for Baby (Random House 2020) and co-author (with Dan Siegel) of THE POWER OF SHOWING UP (Random House 2020) and THE YES BRAIN (Random House 2018), as well as two New York Times bestsellers — THE WHOLE-BRAIN CHILD (Random House 2011), and NO-DRAMA DISCIPLINE (Random House 2014), helping parents alllll over the world.

Dr. Bryson keynotes conferences and conducts workshops for kids, parents, educators, clinicians, and industry leaders worldwide, and she makes frequent media appearances for venues like TIME, “Good Morning America,” The New York Times, and Real Simple.

Tina’s Ph.D. research explored attachment science, childrearing theory, and the emerging field of interpersonal neurobiology.

I love that Tina says the most important part of her bio is that she’s a mom. She limits her clinical practice and speaking engagements so that she can spend time with her family. Alongside her husband of 25 years, parenting her three boys is what makes her happiest.

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About Katie Kimball

Katie Kimball, CSME, creator of Kids Cook Real Food and CEO of Kitchen Stewardship, LLC, is passionate about connecting families around healthy food. As a trusted educator and author of 8 real food cookbooks, she’s been featured on media outlets like ABC, NBC and First for Women magazine and contributes periodically on the FOX Network.

Since 2009, busy moms have looked to Katie as a trusted authority and advocate for children’s health, and she often partners with health experts and medical practitioners to stay on the cutting edge. In 2016 she created the Wall Street Journal recommended best online kids cooking course, Kids Cook Real Food, helping thousands of families around the world learn to cook. She is actively masterminding the Kids’ Meal Revolution, with a goal of every child learning to cook.

A mom of 4 kids from Michigan, she is also a Certified Stress Mastery Educator, member of the American Institute of Stress and trained speaker through Bo Eason’s Personal Story Power.

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