How to teach your baby sign language: 10 most used baby signs 

Baby sign language is a set of hand gestures and movements (known as signs) used by parents and babies to refer to common words(1). It’s a tool to improve communication between parents and babies who can hear but cannot yet talk. Babies usually stop signing once they can speak.  

Some baby signs are the same as those in the American Sign Language (ASL) or the British Sign Language (BSL) whereas others are different. The ASL and the BSL are technical sign languages used by the deaf community with complex grammar and sentence structure. In contrast, baby sign language is a simpler version that uses hand gestures for specific words(2).  

Academics suggested that the use of baby sign language could be beneficial for families around 200 years ago. It was only in the 2000s that baby sign language became popular amongst families. 

Since then, books, video, classes, websites, apps, and programs have claimed that using baby sign language improves language development, cognitive development, parent-child bonding, and reduces tantrums, and frustrations(3).  

In 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced that baby sign language helps parents and babies to communicate more effectively.  

However, despite these claims and endorsements there is little scientific evidence examining baby sign language. Let’s have a look at the research.  

Is it beneficial for babies to learn sign language? 

It is not clear. There are not many scientific studies examining sign language and the quality of the ones we have is not great(4).  

Some studies found that using sign language is good for children whereas others find no benefits. Even the studies that found that signing helps babies develop their language skills, concluded that these benefits disappeared by the time children turned three(5).  This means that even if signing improves language development, the benefit is short-term only. 

With the evidence that we have so far, we cannot conclude that baby sign language helps promote language development, cognitive skills, or literacy.  Nor we can conclude that it helps improve parent-child interactions nor parents’ responsiveness towards their children(6).  

Does it harm to use baby sign language?  

No. There is no evidence suggesting that baby sign interferes with child development.  

You may have heard that signing may delay language development and verbal communication, but it doesn’t look like it.  

I want to give it a go: When and how do I start? 

  • Start early but know that it will take time for your baby to start signing: A good moment to start teaching your baby sign language is between the ages of four to six months. Your baby won’t be able to make the signs until they are least nine months or a little later. Remember that every baby is different, so don’t despair if other babies around you seem to be learning at a faster pace.  

  • Similarly, to what happens when they learn to speak, at the beginning your baby will understand much more than they can sign.  

  • Start with a few signs only. Once your baby has learned them, slowly introduce more. Stick to those initial signs even if your baby doesn’t seem to be learning it. Don’t be tempted to try other signs. Once they have learned 4 o 5 signs, you can introduce another 4 or 5.  

  • Focus on teaching practical, everyday signs. The AAP recommends parents to focus on signs for the things your baby sees, wants, or does most often.  

  • Make it fun, use rewards and praise. 

  • Always pair signs with spoken language. Start by saying the word (for example ‘mama’), while making ‘mama’ in sign language, and pointing to her.  

  • Do the signs in context. For example, sign the word ‘milk’ before, during, and after feeding.  

  • Repetition and consistency are key. Sign every time you say the word, at the same that you say the word.  

  • Involve family members. The more your baby sees the signs, the better they will learn them.  

  • You may learn the signs by reading books, signing up to apps or websites, or you can attend a baby sign class.  

Baby sign chart: The 10 most useful signs  

Is baby sign language the same as Makaton? 

Both baby sign language and Makaton use signs and gestures to help communication but they serve different communities. Makaton is used by hearing people with learning or communication difficulties. Baby sign language is used by hearing parents and their pre-verbal hearing infants.  

What is the take-home message?  

It is not clear that sign language helps children’s development in any way. At the same time, there is no evidence suggesting that it is negative for children.  

However, given that there is a big market for it, beware of companies and professionals that may be over-selling the benefits of baby sign. Some websites make false claims about the benefits of baby signing, whereas others provide a false overview of the research by only citing the studies that support their commercial interests.  

There is no evidence that teaching your baby to sign will raise dramatically their IQ or that they will get top grades at school. If you find that it’s a fun thing to do with your baby and it helps you to communicate with them, go for it! If you don’t see the point, or it’s another thing to add to your to do list, you can happily forget about it.   

Finally, remember an important message: If you try and fail to sign with your baby, it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with them. Maybe and simply, they are just not into it.  

I hope this information is useful. If you have any questions or comments, drop me an email or leave us a comment below. What is experience using baby sign language? Do you recommend it?

Much love,


Dr Ana Aznar

Reference list

(1)Mueller, V., Sepulveda, A., & Rodriguez, S. (2014). The effects of baby sign training on child development. Early Child Development and Care, 184(8), 1178-1191.  

(2)Howard, L. E., & Doherty-Sneddon, G. (2014). How HANDy are baby signs? A commentary on a systematic review of the impact of gestural communication on typically developing, hearing infants under the age of 36 months. First Language, 34(6), 510-515. 

(3)Nelson, L. H., White, K. R., & Grewe, J. (2012). Evidence for website claims about the benefits of teaching sign language to infants and toddlers with normal hearing. Infant and Child Development, 21(5), 474-502. 

(4)Doherty-Sneddon, G. (2008). The great baby signing debate: Academia meets public interest. The Psychologist, 21(4), 300-303. 

(5)Goodwyn, S.W., Acredolo, L.P. & Brown, C.A. Impact of Symbolic Gesturing on Early Language Development. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior24, 81–103 (2000). 

(6) Fitzpatrick, E. M., Thibert, J., Grandpierre, V., & Johnston, J. C. (2014). How HANDy are baby signs? A systematic review of the impact of gestural communication on typically developing, hearing infants under the age of 36 months. First Language, 34(6), 486-509. 

Psychologists Baumrind, Maccoby and Martin quoted the four main parenting styles based on the degree to which parents are responsive and set limits to their children.  

These four parenting styles(1) are: Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive, and Neglectful.  

Authoritative parenting is the gold standard of parenting. In contrast, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful parenting are not that good for children. 

In this article we are going to explore permissive parenting and how it relates to children’s development.  

What is permissive parenting? 

Permissive parenting(2) (also known as indulgent parenting) refers to those parents who are affectionate, warm, and responsive towards their children but do not demand much of them.  

Permissive parents want to be their children’s friends. They avoid conflict. They do not monitor their children, nor they provide guidance and structure.  

They are very responsive to their children’s needs, to the point that they are considered to be at their children’s beck and call.  

Their discipline style is inconsistent. One day they may punish their children for misbehaving at school, whereas another day the same behaviour may go unpunished.  

Children raised by permissive parents are more likely to: 

  • Be impulsive.  

  • Not have a good academic achievement.  

  • Have lower levels of emotional competence.  

  • Show higher rates of school misconduct. 

  • Show delinquent behaviour during adolescence. 

  • Show deviant peer relations during adolescence. 

  • Show internalizing (e.g., anxiety) and externalizing behaviours (e.g., aggression). 

  • However, not everything is negative for children of permissive parents. They tend to have good self-esteem and good social skills(3)

How to know if you are a permissive parent? 

You are permissive if you tend to: 

  • Let your child figure things out by themselves. 

  • Let your child do chores whenever they feel like it.  

  • Not know where your child is or who they are out with. 

  • Let your child decide when to go to bed, how much screen time to have, or eat snacks whenever they want.  

  • Do whatever your child asks you to do. From driving them to places even if it is inconvenient for you to buying them whatever they ask for.   

  • Give in so they stop crying or complaining.  

Why do children of permissive parents struggle to regulate themselves? 

Permissive parents do not tend to set clear rules and expectations, nor do they discipline their children consistently. This means that children have fewer opportunities to practice their regulation skills(4) because they rarely experience frustration, disappointment, or anger.   

As parents, it is normal that we want to protect our children from experiencing negative events. But we must remember that they need to have opportunities to experience frustration, stress, and failure so they can learn to deal with them.   

Why is permissive parenting linked with delinquent behaviour? 

Permissive parents do not monitor their children well or not at all. Monitoring means to watch, supervise and be aware of our children’s activities. Children whose parents fail to monitor them are more likely to engage with the ‘wrong’ crowd and to engage in delinquent behaviour. Monitoring our children well is important, particularly during the teenage years(5)

The goal is to know what is going in your child’s life. If you are unsure about what monitoring your child means, think of it as: “Ask who, ask where, ask when.”  

Is it true that when parents are stressed, they become more permissive?  

Parents’ stress(6) influences their parenting. Stressed parents are more likely to become authoritarian or permissive. When you are juggling many balls, sometimes something has got to give. That may mean relaxing your parenting and becoming more permissive. For other parents, stress means that they have a shorter ‘leash’ and they become more authoritarian. 

Parents who can regulate their emotions when feeling stressed, are more likely to stay authoritative. In contrast, those parents who cannot regulate their emotions well, are more likely to become authoritarian or permissive when feeling stressed. 

This means that it is especially important for parents to be aware of their own emotional state and reflect on how it may be influencing their parenting, and their children.  

Does permissive parenting work in some cultures? 

Extensive research shows that across cultures, the style that works best is authoritative. However, it is important to remember that there are cultural differences in parenting. There is some research suggesting that in Spain(7), permissive parenting may be as good as authoritative parenting. However, it is not clear if these findings reflect real differences or if they are due to methodological differences in the research.  

I am a permissive parent: How can I become more authoritative? 

The good news for permissive parents is that you are already warm and caring, you just need to work on learning to set and keep rules and expectations. 

Here are four tips: 

  • Create a set of rules: Think of the three rules that you consider most important. Explain them to your children and establish what the consequences are if they don’t follow them. 

  • Set expectations: What are the values that you would like your children to have? Tell them what you expect of them and set expectations. 

  • Let go of fear: Sometimes parents don’t want to set rules or high expectations because they are afraid that their children will stop loving them or that they won’t like them. Children need limits.

  • Your child will never stop loving you because you set some limits and rules. They may not like you for a bit, but they will love you. We need to be our children’s parents as opposed to their friends. Our role is to guide our children and monitor them until they are ready to fly the nest.  

  • Do not try to change everything at the same time: You do not need to set up a hundred strict rules overnight. Make realistic and attainable adjustments and keep going.  

  • Seeking professional may be advisable. Our REC Parenting therapists are ready to support you in this journey. Get in touch here. It’s never too late to become the parent you want to be.  

What about parents of neurodivergent kids? 

Unsurprisingly, parenting neurodiverse children is more stressful(8) than parenting typically developing children. Parents of neurodivergent children are more likely to face extra challenges, such as financial pressure, difficult child behaviour, health problems, and unpredictable schedules (Neece & Chan, 2017). As a result, parents of neurodiverse children find it more difficult to be authoritative(9). They are more likely to become permissive or authoritarian (Woolfson & Grant, 2006). 

What is the take-home message? 

Permissive parenting is not the best way to parent our children. Instead, try to be authoritative as much as you can. You are already a warm and caring parent. Focus on providing more guidance and structure to your child. At REC Parenting we are here to help with a wealth of resources and one-to-one support.   

Finally, remember that the perfect parent doesn’t exist! We need to try to get it right as often as we can. 

I hope you find this useful. If you have any queries or comments, drop me an email or leave a comment below. We love hearing from you! 

Much love,


Dr Ana Aznar


(1) Kuppens, S., Ceulemans, E. Parenting Styles: A Closer Look at a Well-Known Concept. J Child Fam Stud 28, 168–181 (2019). 

(2)Wischerth, G. A., Mulvaney, M. K., Brackett, M. A., & Perkins, D. (2016). The Adverse Influence of Permissive Parenting on Personal Growth and the Mediating Role of Emotional Intelligence. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 177(5), 185–189. 

(3) Rose, J., Roman, N., Mwaba, K., & Ismail, K. (2018). The relationship between parenting and internalizing behaviours of children: A systematic review. Early Child Development and Care, 188(10), 1468-1486. 

(4)Wischerth, G. A., Mulvaney, M. K., Brackett, M. A., & Perkins, D. (2016). The Adverse Influence of Permissive Parenting on Personal Growth and the Mediating Role of Emotional Intelligence. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 177(5), 185–189. 

(5)Hinnant, J.B., Erath, S.A., Tu, K.M. et al. Permissive Parenting, Deviant Peer Affiliations, and Delinquent Behavior in Adolescence: the Moderating Role of Sympathetic Nervous System Reactivity. J Abnorm Child Psychol 44, 1071–1081 (2016). 

(6)Aznar, A., Sowden, P., Bayless, S., Ross, K., Warhurst, A., & Pachi, D. (2021). Home-schooling during COVID-19 lockdown: Effects of coping style, home space, and everyday creativity on stress and home-schooling outcomes. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 10(4), 294–312. 

(7)Garcia, F., & Gracia, E. (2009). Is always authoritative the optimum parenting style? Evidence from Spanish families. Adolescence, 44(173), 101-131. 

(8)Neece, C.L., Chan, N. (2017). The Stress of Parenting Children with Developmental Disabilities. In: Deater-Deckard, K., Panneton, R. (eds) Parental Stress and Early Child Development. Springer, Cham. 

(9)Woolfson, L., & Grant, E. (2006). Authoritative parenting and parental stress in parents of pre‐school and older children with developmental disabilities. Child: care, health and development, 32(2), 177-184. 

The four main parenting styles: Authoritative, Authoritarian, Permissive, and Neglectful. Which one is yours?

Psychologists Baumrid, Maccoby, and Martin rated thousands of parents and children along two dimensions: warmth and demandingness. Based on those two dimensions they concluded that each parent falls into one of the four main parenting styles. Why are parenting styles important? Because they play a role in children’s development. 

Let’s have a look at them so you can decide the type of parent you are. 

Authoritative Parenting

These parents are loving, caring, and warm. They encourage trust and intimacy. They set high expectations and clear rules. Children understand those rules and what the consequences are when they break them. Parents take into consideration their children’s opinions and feelings. Children feel safe and secure because their parents are consistent and establish clear routines. 

How does authoritative parenting influence children?

Children of authoritative parents are the ones who do best. These children tend to:

  • Be well adjusted 
  • Have good social skills
  • Do well in school
  • Have high self-esteem

Hundreds of studies show that authoritative parenting can be considered the gold standard of parenting. 

Authoritarian Parenting

These parents are demanding and cold. They expect their children to do as they are told. They set strict rules, and they tend be inflexible and rigid. They do not encourage intimacy nor trust. Parents expect children to do as they are told. 

When they discipline their children, they are harsh, use punishments and may get physical. They do not explain to the child why their behaviour was wrong. 

How does Authoritarian Parenting influence children? These children are more likely to:

  • Have poor social relations
  • Have mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
  • Do poorly at school
  • Have lower self-esteem

Permissive Parenting

These parents are warm and responsive, but they don’t expect much from their children. They provide little guidance and direction. They want to be liked by their children, so they avoid conflict.  

 They do no set clear limits. They are not consistent in their discipline.  One day they may punish their child for not making the bed and the next day, the same behaviour may go unnoticed. 

How do permissive parents influence their children? These children are:

  • More likely to have emotional and behavioural problems
  • Less likely to do well at school
  • More likely to have self-regulation issues

Neglectful Parenting (also called uninvolved parenting): 

These parents are not demanding nor responsive towards their children’s needs. They are simply not interested in their children’s lives. They don’t set expectations, nor they offer guidance, support, or supervision.  They offer shelter and food but that’s about it. 

They don’t discipline their children. 

How do neglectful parenting influence children? These children are more likely to:

  • Struggle at school
  • Lack self-regulation 
  • Use drugs and alcohol
  • Engage in delinquency and antisocial behaviour 

Children of neglectful parents are the worst off. 

Let me say something before we continue. You may have noticed that I use the words ‘tend to’ or ‘are likely’ quite a lot. This is because developmental psychology research cannot say 100% that something will happen, it can say that something is likely to happen. Let’s take the example of neglectful parenting. Studies show that children of neglectful parents are very likely to do poorly in life. Does this mean that all neglected children will do badly? No. There are neglected children who do well. We cannot categorically say that all neglected children will struggle, we can only say that neglected children are more likely to struggle. 

Let’s now answer some questions that parents often ask about this topic. 

What about other parenting styles I have heard of?

You may have heard about gentle parenting, helicopter parenting, attachment parenting, laid back parenting, reflective parenting, natural parenting, and so many others! 

The reality is that most of these parenting styles do the rounds in social media and the press but there is not much (or any) scientific research backing them. 

There is some research on intensive parenting (or helicopter parenting) suggesting that it is linked with negative outcomes for children.

Do I always have the same parenting style?

No. Your parenting style may change depending on what is happening in your life. For example, when parents are stressed maybe because they are going through a divorce or have been laid off at work, they are usually harsher with their children. So, a parent that is usually authoritative may become authoritarian. Be mindful of what is happening in your life to understand how you are behaving towards your children.

Many parents do not fit nicely into one category. They may be for example, mostly permissive with a bit of neglect. Like in everything in life, there are many shades of grey in parenting!

Do I have the same parenting style with all my children?

No. You may have different parenting styles with each of your children. This happens because parents influence their children, but children also influence their parents. Parenting is a way two-street. Imagine that you have a child that is always happy, loving, and easy. It is likely that you will be authoritative with them. Now, imagine that your other child has always been difficult, is moody, and aloof. It is likely that you will be more authoritarian with them. 

This doesn’t mean that we love one child more than the other. It means that they are different people, and we react differently to them. 

Can I change my parenting style?

Yes. Parenting styles can be changed. There are studies called ‘parenting interventions’ where parents are taught to become ‘better’ parents. I have good news: 

  •  Parents can and do change the way the parent
  • When parents become ‘better’ at parenting, their children do better 

With the right support and commitment, we can become the parent we want to be more often than not. Remember that the perfect parent doesn’t exist, and our children don’t need a perfect parent. What they need is that we get it right most of the time. 

If you want to change aspects of your parenting that you are not happy with, our REC Parenting therapists are here to support you. 

What if my partner has one parenting style and I have another?

This is a common issue but there is not a lot of research about it. The ideal situation is one where both parents (or at least one) are authoritative.

If you have two different parenting styles, remember that you and your partner want what is best for your child, even if you disagree about what the ‘best thing’ looks like. Try to find some common ground. 

Does culture influence parenting styles?

Very much so! We raise our children to fit in the society that we live in. Different societies have different values, beliefs, and traditions, so, parenting is not the same across all cultures. 

Authoritative parenting is more common in Western countries. In contrast, in collectivist countries parents tend to be more authoritarian. 

What about parenting styles for parents of neurodivergent children?

Like all children, neurodivergent children, benefit from authoritative parents. However, these parents may find more difficult to be warm and responsive towards their children because raising neurodivergent children brings its own challenges. 

It is particularly important for parents raising neurodivergent children to take care of themselves and find a support system. 

My final message?

As parents we are inundated with tips and advice. Just remember one thing: Try to be an authoritative parent as often as you can. You won’t get it always right, and that’s OK. Our children don’t need us to get it right all the time. They need us to get it right more often than not. That’s… about it. 

I hope you find this article helpful. As always, if you have any questions or comments, drop me an email.

Much love


Dr Ana Aznar

What are Executive Functions?

They are a set of mental skills that we use every day. We use them all the time without even thinking about it.

There are three set of executive function skills:

  • Working memory: It’s the ability to hold information in mind and mentally working with it. It’s the workbench of the brain. Working memory allows us to take notes in a meeting, remember what to say while listening to others, or mentally make a plan. 

  • Cognitive flexibility: It’s the ability to see things from another perspective, be creative, and adjust to unexpected challenges. It allows us to understand how someone else is feeling or to find creative solutions to a problem. 

  • Inhibitory control: It’s our ability to resist temptations, keep focus, and give well-thought responses instead of impulsive ones. It allows us, for example, not to speak over someone or not to eat the cake because we are trying to lose weight. 

Why are they important?

They are our mental tool kit. We need this kit to succeed in just about every aspect of life. From the important things to the everyday chores. Some people refer to executive function skills as the CEO of the brain.

Research shows that when our executive functions (EFs) are not well established, we may have problems in almost every aspect of life: 

  • Mental health: poor EFs are impaired in mental disorders such as depression, addictions, or schizophrenia.

  • Physical health: poorer EFs have been linked with drug use, overeating, and obesity

  • Quality of life: People with better EFs enjoy a better quality of life

  • School readiness: EFs are more important for school readiness than reading, maths ability and IQ

  • School success: EFs predict reading and maths competence throughout school 

  • Job success: poor EFs are linked with difficulty finding and keeping a job, and poor productivity

  • Romantic relationships: living with a partner with poor EFs may be more difficult as they may be more likely to be impulsive, be inflexible 

  • Public safety: people who engage in crime, violence, and risky behaviour have been found to have poor EFs

How do Executive Functions develop?

Executive Functions are housed in the prefrontal lobe of the brain. This is the last bit of the brain to develop. It doesn’t fully develop until the early 20s. 

The most basic executive function skills, like control, flexibility, keep focused, and working memory begin to develop shortly after birth, with a sharp increase between ages 3-5. For example, from the age of 2 we are already teaching children to control themselves and not hit other children or snatch from other kids. 

The more complex skills, such as planning, organization, time-management, getting on with things, develop during the teenage years. Cognitive flexibility is the latest skill to develop because it builds on working memory and inhibitory control. 

How do children learn about executive functions?

Executive function skills are learnt in the context of social relationships. 

The main way through which children learn is by observing their parents and other relevant adults in their lives. This is called modelling. And this is the main way they learn about EFs. For example, a child sees that her mum doesn’t lose it when the milk has been moved from its usual place at the supermarket. He is learning that unexpected things happen in life and that we don’t throw a fit because of it. He is learning about flexibility, which is an executive function skill.

As parents we also explicitly teach our children about these skills. If we think about the same example, when we noticed that the milk has been moved, we say: “Oh dear, they have moved the milk. This is frustrating but let’s go and ask someone where the milk is now”. By saying this, we are teaching our children how to react to an unexpected situation and how to handle it. We are explicitly teaching them about flexibility. 

Research shows that children develop their executive function skills more effectively when they have a supportive relationship with the adults in their life, when they have consistent routines, and when their parents are ‘good’ models. 

Establishing healthy family practices such as cleaning all backpacks every Sunday, keeping devices out of the bedrooms, planning the week ahead or having a designated and quiet time to do homework, benefit children. 

It is important to consider that executive functions also have a genetic component. So, it may be that if you struggle with certain skills, your child may do too. 

What are the signs that a child may be struggling with executive functions?

There are many signs and different children will manifest it in different ways. 

A clear sign is a lack of physical organization: notebooks are disorganized, pieces of paper are everywhere, and bits and bobs of the uniform get constantly lost. 

Other children may struggle with time management, it may take them a long time to start a task, or they may get distracted often. 

EFs are influenced by stress and sleep. Think how everything is much more difficult when we haven’t slept properly! Checking how much sleep a child is getting is always recommended. 

Be mindful of what is going on in your child’s life. Are they going through a rough time at home? Have they just changed schools? Is there a new sibling in the family? Stress have been shown to delay the development of executive functions skills. 

When to bring in professional support?

EFs can be improved. If you have a child that is really struggling, and you have been supporting them, but things are not improving, it may be time to seek help. 

If supporting your child is getting in the way of your relationship, it is also a good idea to seek help. 

There are professionals called executive function coaches. They will have regular sessions with the child to support the development of the skills they are struggling with. 

Executive function coaches are relatively new to this space, so if you decide that you need a coach, remember to check their credentials, and make sure they have the right experience. We can help you find the right professional. Let us know if you need help!

There are other methods to improve EFs. A computerized training called CogMed®; and taekwondo have been shown to improve children’s EFs. 

What about neurodivergent children?

Many of them struggle with executive functions and may acquire them at a slower pace than typically developing children. 

Research shows a strong link between poor EFs and ADHD. Indeed, ADHD is a disorder of the prefrontal lobe where EFs are housed. Nearly all children with ADHD have some challenges with executive function skills. They are more likely to struggle with working memory, inhibitory control, and emotional regulation. 

In the case of children with autism, their EF skills may trail behind those of peers by many years. 

Children with dyslexia are more likely to have problems with working memory. This creates difficulties with spelling. 

Neurodivergent children benefit from the same techniques that we have just discussed to improve their EFs, although in their case, it may take longer to see improvements. 

We hope you find this information useful. It’s worth knowing about EFs to be able to support your child’s development. Knowing about EFs allows you to support them in areas that they may be struggling and to adjust your expectations, based on the developmental stage they are at.  

If you would like some support or would like to get more information on this topic, do not hesitate to get in touch with me at

Much love, 


Dr Ana Aznar

We’ve all been there: You are at the supermarket with your 2-year-old. He eyes the chocolate chip cookies. You are late to react and knows what is coming: A full-on meltdown in aisle 31 of the supermarket begins when you tell him he cannot have the cookies. After all, it is almost dinner time. Your fellow customers alternate between giving you the look of “What a bad parent” or “I totally get you, don’t worry”. What do you do? Do you carry your child kicking and screaming out of the supermarket or do you let him cry out for what seems like the longest time of your life?

Let’s look at the science behind tantrums. 

What is a tantrum?

They are brief episodes of extreme and sometimes aggressive behaviours in response to frustration or anger. They usually include: Crying, hitting, throwing items, biting, pushing, going limp and breath-holding. 

Why do tantrums happen?

They happen because at this stage it is very difficult for your child to control their emotions. And at this age when they are happy, they are VERY happy and when they are angry, they are VERY angry. At this same time, children become more independent. Most of them can now walk around and with this newly gained physical independence, they want to be allowed to DO things. And when you tell them ‘NO’ the frustration begins. And because they cannot control that frustration and they don’t have the ability to tell you how they are feeling, the tantrum begins! 

So… Can I prevent tantrums to happen?

Good news- Yes! Tantrums happen because of hunger, tiredness, illness and frustration. Therefore, prevention is the best way to avoid them. 

Some useful tips are:

  • Establish a consistent routine so the child knows when it is time to go to bed, have a bath, eat, and play. 
  • Take snacks with you when you are out and about to avoid your child getting hungry.
  • If possible, avoid ‘boring’ activities like going to the supermarket or to the post office around nap time or lunch time when your child is more likely to be cranky. 
  • Have toys at the ready so you can distract your child if he starts getting frustrated. 

The theory is great but I could not prevent it and I am now facing a massive tantrum: What do I do? 

There is not much you can do once the tantrum starts. The best thing to do is to wait it out. Make sure your child is safe (they sometimes bang their heads against the wall or the floor), stay close but don’t do anything. Once they finish, wipe their tears and redirect their attention to another activity. 

The acronym R.I.D.D. can help you handle tantrums (easier said than done, we know):

Remain calm 

Ignore the tantrum

Distract the child as soon as it is over

Do make sure your child is safe but don’t give in to demands. 

Do not give in. If you give into the tantrum, you are reinforcing the behaviour and your child will know that if he throws a tantrum, he will get what he wants. We know it may be painful to watch, but the best thing for your child is for you to wait until he is done.

My child is approaching two: How often can I expect tantrums to happen?

Tantrums happen between the ages of two and three but may occur as young as 12 months. They happen in 87% of 18 to 24-month-olds, 91% of 30 to 36-month-olds, and 59% of 42 to 48-month-olds. They tend to occur once a day for around three minutes. There are no differences in the prevalence of tantrums by gender or ethnicity. 

As the child grows and they learn to put their feelings into words, the frequency, length and severity of the tantrums decrease (don’t despair! -There is light at the end of the tunnel).  

What about tantrums in the case of neurodivergent children?

Neurodivergent children may experience more frequent and aggressive tantrums because they usually have more difficulties expressing their feelings. 

In the case of children with autism, it is important to differentiate between tantrums and meltdowns. A meltdown is more emotional, bigger, lasts for longer, and is more difficult to manage than a tantrum. A meltdown happens because a sensory or emotional overwhelm. It is a sign of distress that cannot be controlled by the child. Meltdowns may last for as long as 20 minutes and can happen at any age. 

Like tantrums, meltdowns can be prevented by recognizing the triggers and using techniques like distraction and keeping a consistent routine. The most important thing to do in the case of a meltdown is to make sure your child is safe and cannot get hurt while it lasts. 

Ok, I understand how to take care of my child during a tantrum or a meltdown but what about me?

Tantrums and meltdowns can really push you to the limit. We are with you. 

Try to remain as calm as you can. If you think you are going to lose it, make sure your child is safe and leave the room for a few seconds to calm yourself down. Another useful technique is to ring a friend and have a chat to distract yourself while making sure your child is safe. Or ask a neighbour to come in. 

Toddlers can really push your buttons. Try to remain calm and not lose your patience. And remember, this phase won’t last forever even if sometimes it feels like it. 

We hope you find this article useful. Remember to contact your REC Parenting therapist if you need support. For any questions or comments, do drop us an email at We are here to support your and your family. 



Dr Ana Aznar

Photo credit Arwan Sutanto on Unsplash

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world in different ways. Being neurodivergent means having a brain that works differently from the ‘typical’ person. The key is that these differences are not viewed as deficits, rather they are seen as well…. differences, nor better or worse, just different. 

Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of issues, including: ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyscalculia, Down syndrome, epilepsy, Tourette’s syndrome, epilepsy, tics disorders, ODD, giftedness… 

Approximately 1 in 6 children can be considered neurodivergent. We know that being a working parent may be challenging but the challenges for working parents of neurodivergent children may seem unsurmountable. These parents have to address frequent and intense crisis-driven care needs for their children, experience stigmatisation in many areas of life, and are concerned about their job security because of their demanding child care responsibilities.  

It is no surprising that parents of neurodivergent children drop out of the workforce at very high rates. Burnout, unpredictable schedules, and the varying levels of care required are some of the reasons. Yet we know that 60% of parents don’t disclose the fact that they have a neurodivergent child to their employer.  

Knowing how to support parents caring for neurodivergent children is imperative. These parents do face extra challenges but they are also likely to develop very valuable skills from their experiences in an atypical parenting situation, such as resilience, negotiation, time management and flexibility.  

Photo: Austin Diestel on Unsplash

Here are five strategies to support your employees who are caring for a neurodivergent child: 

Support them with specialized resources: When a parent suspects or is told that their child may be neurodivergent, they face the very daunting and time-consuming task of understanding what to do, how to find the right specialists, and where to find support. And they must do all this while dealing with their own mental state. Offering dedicated resources at this time may be life-changing for a working parent. Parents of neurodivergent children need the right set of skills and tools so their whole family can thrive.  

Support their mental health and wellbeing: Parents of neurodivergent children are 2.4 times more likely to have mental health issues than other parents. They suffer from high stress levels that contribute to depression, anxiety and other poor health outcomes. Easy access to mental health support services will help parents to take care of themselves in turn allowing them to take better care of their child.  

Flexibility must be a policy not a perk: Be prepared to offer them some control over when and where they work. A meeting at 9 pm rather than at 4 pm may work better for them because the child is already in bed. 

Train line managers: Line managers cannot be expected to know about everything. Training them so they have the tools to know how to accommodate and support parents of neurodivergent children is a must.

Create a truly inclusive workplace: Parents may not tell their employers about their situation because of fear of not being seen as completely invested in their jobs or fearing that their co-workers and managers will think that their children are ‘odd’ or ‘weird’. Actions such as creating a dedicated employee resource group, celebrating a ‘neurodiversity day or week’, or a ‘bring your family to work day’ will help to create an inclusive family-friendly working culture. No matter how families look like. Initiatives should be ongoing to increase engagement and awareness.  

At REC Parenting we are committed to support the needs of parents of neurodivergent children. For any comments or queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch at  


Dr Ana Aznar

Registered in England & Wales. Company No.13460950. Registered office Salatin House, 19 Cedar Road, Sutton, SM2 5DA, United Kingdom

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