Pediatricians give advice on temper tantrums
BY NOUR HABIB World Scene Writer
Monday, February 04, 2013
2/04/13 at 7:41 AM
The piercing sounds of a toddler's cries and screams, coupled with some kicking or stomping, are often enough to tempt a parent to give in to a child's demands.
Don't do it.
Experts say temper tantrums are a normal part of development but warn that parents need to handle them correctly if they want to rear a well-disciplined child.
"Most of us want to raise responsible, respectable kids, and we are teaching in every move we make," said Julie Powell Thomas, a psychologist at the Tulsa Family Development Center.
Here, Thomas and Tulsa-area pediatricians talk about the reasons children have tantrums and ways to deal with them.
Temper tantrums are born of frustration.
Children ages 1 to 3, those who most commonly have tantrums, are frustrated frequently because they are at an age where they are trying to act more independently but are many times unable to. Tantrums also stem from the fact that toddlers often cannot articulate how they are feeling.
Charity Pollak, a pediatrician at Utica Park Clinic in Jenks, said the tendency of a child to throw a tantrum also depends on that child's temperament.
"Some kids are good at self-calming and some kids are not," she said.
Other factors that may contribute to a tantrum are fatigue, hunger or illness, doctors said.
Donald Hamilton, a pediatrician and professor of pediatrics at the OU School of Community Medicine in Tulsa, said when looking at children's behavior, doctors consider what they refer to as the ABCs. The "A" is the antecedent - what happens before the behavior, or "B." The "C" is the consequence of the behavior.
Parents have to try to understand the "A," Hamilton said, if they are to be able to avoid the behavior in the future.
When possible, try to avoid the triggers that can send your child into a tantrum.
"Look at whether you are putting your child in a position to not function well," Hamilton said. "A one-hour trip to Walmart is going to make a lot of kids not function well."
If your child needs to stick to a schedule, do not take him to run errands when it is his naptime, Hamilton said.
Also, give your children choices.
"Make them feel like they have some control," Pollak said.
But don't offer open-ended choices, Hamilton said, like asking what they want to eat. Because if they ask for ice cream and you say no, that will again lead to frustration. Instead, ask whether they'd like a peanut butter sandwich or a banana.
Thomas also recommends giving your children attention when they are being good because children sometimes employ tantrums as a means for attention.
And be reasonable, she said.
"Realistically, give kids a chance," Thomas said. "Give them a warning before they need to turn off the television or make a transition."
Finally, the three emphasize that it is important to pick your battles.
"Don't say no to everything," Pollak said.
Use common sense, Thomas said. If you know that your child is tired or stressed out, just let things slide.
How to deal with it
When you do pick your battle, be sure to win it, experts say.
"You cannot give in to tantrums," Pollak said. "That's the worst thing you can do."
Giving children what they want when they throw a fit reinforces that behavior.
"People do what works, and children are people," Thomas said. If crying for a toy in public leads to the child getting that toy, they will do it again the next time. "Even 2- or 3-year-olds can figure that out."
If you give in to a tantrum, it will become a manipulation tool for the child, Hamilton said.
Instead, try ignoring your child.
"Put pretend earplugs in," Pollak said. If you have children who throw things or bang their head when having a tantrum, watch them to be sure that they do not harm themselves or others. But otherwise, act as though nothing is happening.
Eventually, after about 5 to 15 minutes, most kids run out of steam.
Another option is to distract your child. Take her to a different room or give him a different toy.
Kids have short attention spans and often will quickly forget what they were crying about if distracted, Pollak said.
Don't let a public outburst make you give in, either.
"Sometimes that may mean you just have to leave the store and go to the car until they calm down," Hamilton said.
Even if leaving is inconvenient, and means leaving behind a whole shopping cart of groceries, that is the better option when it comes to disciplining your child, experts said. Otherwise, you train children that acting out in public will get them what they want.
In all instances, it is essential that you remain calm.
Although a parent's first instinct may be to yell at a child during a tantrum, it is counterproductive. Instead, speak in a low voice.
"Pause and make sure you are calm before you say anything," Thomas said. Yelling will make your child feel that you have lost control.
Starting at about age 2, giving a child a timeout can also help.
And finally, do not try to reason with a child during a tantrum. "It's not helpful," Pollak said.
When to be concerned
Although tantrums are a normal part of a child's development, there are instances when they might be cause for concern, experts say.
If a child is having frequent tantrums after the age of 3, it may indicate a developmental or behavioral problem, said Donald Hamilton, a pediatrician and professor of pediatrics at the OU School of Community Medicine in Tulsa.
Tantrums at an older age can indicate a speech or language problem. They can also be indicative of an anxiety disorder, ADHD or, more rarely, Asperger's syndrome, autism or a mental disorder.
Other instances in which tantrums could be cause for concern is if they consistently last longer than the average 5 to 15 minutes, if they are accompanied by violent or destructive behavior, or if parents cannot identify a trigger.
"Any time a parent is concerned about a child's behavior, they should bring it up to their doctor," Hamilton said.
Julie Powell Thomas, a psychologist at the Tulsa Family Development Center, gets a lot of referrals from pediatricians.
She said sometimes it is actually the parent who needs help.
Misbehaving children can interfere with the well-being of the rest of the family and even lead to marital conflict. If you feel as though you're "losing it," Thomas advises getting help for yourself.
Original Print Headline: ABCs of temper tantrums
Nour Habib 918-581-8369
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