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Frustrating and Unexplained Emotions Created by Retained Primitive Reflexes | ilslearningcorner.com

Frustrating and Unexplained Emotions Created by Retained Primitive Reflexes

This article provides helpful information about retained Primitive Reflexes and emotions. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.

When children are young, big emotions are part of growing-up. In fact, tantrums and meltdowns are normal and age-appropriate for children during the toddler years. It’s important for them to go through these emotional stages to reach emotional maturity and to learn how to self-regulate.

However, when children grow older, they should establish more emotional control and know how to handle big emotions in a healthy way. If big emotions and meltdowns happen when it is no longer age-appropriate, it could be a sign that the child is not yet emotionally grounded. When a child is not emotionally grounded, they could have one or more retained Primitive Reflexes keeping the child in a constant emotional state.

How do Retained Reflexes Impact a Child’s Emotions?

When Primitive Reflexes are retained, there is often a disconnection in the brain. Retained reflexes may cause emotional gaps and cause extreme emotional responses if they continue to go unintegrated.

A child with one or more retained reflexes tends to be emotionally immature, unstable and doesn’t know how to self-regulate. Many parents will say, “My child’s emotions run the mood of the whole household.”

If an emotional foundation has not yet been established because of retained Primitive Reflexes, the child may not manifest their emotional development until they are older. This may create a shocking experience for parents because as toddlers, the child’s temperament was mild or passive.

In other cases, the child’s behavior and emotions may have always been disruptive and kept parents on their toes. Tantrums and meltdowns are a regular occurrence and have not stabilized over the years.

If a retained Primitive Reflex is causing emotional setbacks, you may see some or all of the following behaviors:

  • Tantrums and meltdowns that last for long periods of time (maybe an hour or more).
  • Crying or anger because of unwanted sensory stimuli within their environment from loud noises, strong smells or textures of clothing.
  • Fight or flight reactions in social settings or with peers.
  • ADHD-like behaviors
  • Panic or several fears and phobias

Retained Primitive Reflexes and Emotions

To help establish a stronger emotional foundation, integrating any retained Primitive Reflexes is a key first step. Integrating retained reflexes will help children develop the emotional grounding they need to calm the brain and allow the body to focus on more higher learning concepts. When reflexes are retained, the child focuses all their mental energy on keeping their bodies and emotions calm so they can’t channel that mental energy toward learning.

The Moro reflex and Fear Paralysis reflex are the two that cause the most emotional responses in children. They are often known as a duet because they work hand-in-hand together, which can create similar, but also different emotional responses.

Because of their sensory sensitivities, the child often has extreme emotional responses to triggers within their environment. These two reflexes also create a chain reaction of emotions that can lead to tantrums and meltdowns that last long periods of time.

Moro Reflex

The Moro reflex is known as the “startle reflex” primarily seen in infants when they are first born. When this reflex is retained, the child remains in a constant state of fight or flight. They always feel like they are in some type of danger.

Children with a retained Moro reflex often experience emotional insecurities and fears, which are heightened even more by the reflex. As a result, kids with a retained Moro reflex are also prone to higher levels of anxiety when compared to others that can lead to panic attacks and extreme mood swings.

Some children experience so much emotion that they display some of the following aggressive behaviors:

  • Biting
  • Hitting
  • Punching
  • Throwing objects at someone

The child is typically in constant fight or flight mode, especially when the reflex is activated. When emotions take over the child, meltdowns and tantrums become a frequent occurrence in many households. Children who live in this type of emotional world are often inconsolable no matter what techniques parents, teachers or therapists try at home or in school.

Sensory sensitivities are also common in children with a retained Moro reflex. Anything within their environment may trigger a strong emotional reaction, even if it seems small. Some of the sensitivities that don’t bother us, but may trigger the child may include:

  • The hum of a car engine
  • The tapping of a pencil by the child across the room
  • The nightlight in the bedroom
  • The sound of the washer or dryer in the laundry room
  • The smell of you cooking dinner

The child may try to hold in their emotions, but it often backfires. Kids will reach their breaking point and then have an explosion of emotions and emotional outbursts.

Fear Paralysis Reflex

The Fear Paralysis reflex also creates strong emotional responses in children who have it retained. It can lead to a number of physical, mental and emotional challenges.

Children who have the Fear Paralysis reflex retained may experience withdrawal, aggression and low stress tolerance. When the child withdraws, the response is often followed with any of the following behaviors:

  • Crying
  • Screaming
  • Hitting
  • Fleeing the scene
  • Freezing in place

Another emotional side-affect the child may experience when the Fear Paralysis reflex is triggered is the inability to speak or their vocal cords may be temporarily paralyzed.

Children with a retained Fear Paralysis reflex don’t like going to school because they don’t easily adapt to new situations and environments. It may be especially hard at the beginning of the school year to walk into a classroom with a new teacher and friends. You may feel the child becoming stressed and grasping at anything familiar to provide comfort.

Other emotional reactions to watch for when a child has a retained Fear Paralysis reflex include the following:

  • Deer in the headlight’s response
  • Chronic phobias
  • Severe anxiety
  • Inability to adjust to social changes
  • Panic attacks

Landau Reflex and TLR Reflex

A child may also display emotional behaviors when they have the Landau reflex and the Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR) retained. Although milder than the other reflexes mentioned above, the child may still have emotional regulation challenges when these two reflexes are retained. The child often seems “out of touch” with their feelings or the feelings of others.

As the child grows older, retention of these two reflexes will continue to cause frustration, confusion, self-confidence issues and emotional outbursts that affect their ability to concentrate and excel in the classroom.

If you want to learn more about retained Primitive Reflexes or get on a path toward integration, download our free Retained Primitive Reflexes below.


Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs

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