Temper tantrums

Parents have been crying out to me for help in managing their toddler's tantrums. I don't want anyone pulling their hair out on this one; so let me provide some information on toddlers and tantrums. First, be aware that tantrums are common and an expected behavior for young children whose limited understanding and limited verbal ability, plus frustration, lead to tantrums. They are often caused by your child being hungry, bored, over-tired, or over stimulated. They also can happen when your child's independence is challenged or there are just too many "no's" in too short a period of time. Can tantrums be prevented? Perhaps some, but not all. If you are alert as a parent, you might see one being triggered and head the problem off by distracting your child with a new activity or a different toy. If you know dinner will be late, offer a snack. If you are changing activities too abruptly, offer a warning and share what will happen next. For example, if a child isn't eager to go bed, saying "Let's go pick out a book," is better than "Let's get ready for bed." Having a predictable daily schedule can also help. If a tantrum is already in progress, don't give in or your child will demonstrate this behavior more often. Instead, stay cool and calm to role model how to handle anger. If it occurs at home, ignore it as much as possible. You may need to hold your child to prevent him from hurting himself or others but remain calm as you do it. And as he calms down, put your child in his room, where he may calm down on his own. With no audience, there is less incentive to cry, kick, or scream. If you are in a public place, you can offer your child a choice to calm down or you will leave the store, but if this doesn't work feel free to leave. Whatever you do, don't try to reason with a child who's having a tantrum or reward your child when he calms down it will simply encourage the behavior. You can have a more lucid discussion at bedtime when your child has calmed down and you can chat together if your child is old enough to understand (usually beginning at age 2 or 3) about what might be done differently to prevent another tantrum. If these suggestions do not help, please talk to your child's doctor about your child's tantrums. He can offer other ideas and solutions to reduce the frequency of this problem. Hopefully tips like this will temper you and your child when it comes to taming those temper tantrums. Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9 FM and WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids archives at www.vermontchildrens.org.

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