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Raising Good Kids in Tough Times

By Dr. Roger McIntireImage

 The Many Sources of Behavior Problems

            Of all the culprits that contribute to bad behavior in childhood, allergic reactions may be the most difficult to identify. Parents may quickly recognize common allergy symptoms such as runny noses, coughing, and other cold-like indicators. Less obvious symptoms could go unnoticed in daily activity. Dark lines under the eyes, dry lips, inflamed ears and unusually pale skin can easily slip under the parental radar.

            Allergies to pollens are in the forefront this time of year, but food allergies are common the year round. Children who have these allergies are often fussy eaters with a craving, paradoxically, for the food that is the source of the allergy. These children often also like peculiar smells, particularly smells of the very substance causing the trouble, food odors or even gasoline are common examples.

             So when a mother of a fussy child with springtime stuffiness and sniffles, dry lips and that tired look under the eyes says her daughter would “live on just that special cereal if I let her,” you have to wonder if the culprit for the trouble is right there in the bowl.

            Children bothered by such symptoms are usually irritated and prone to tantrums as well as showing the sniffing and sinus symptoms expected in an allergic reaction.  

            Common treatments with non-sedating antihistamines such as Allegra, Claritin and Zyrtec are available over the counter and, by prescription, nasal steroids Flonase and Nasonex may help.

     For stubborn cases, allergy shots and stronger medications are sometimes recommended. Many have a sedating affect that will cover up the problems or tempt the child to use the illness to excuse bad behavior. Benadryl, for example, is so sedating that in the state of Virginia, driving under the influence of a sedating antihistamine is illegal because it impairs driving.

            Sinus infections can also be a result of allergies. The infection can develop when the normal sinus secretions get trapped and don’t drain well–and then become infected.

            While your child’s emotional responses may be related to allergies, your reactions to these outbursts will still be a strong influence. When a child who regularly throws tantrums has a request, parents need to make a careful decision. As every parent knows, the decision to deny the request should not be altered by a tantrum, but often a less clear reaction gets parents into hotter water.

            The request from an explosive child may tempt the parents to put off a confrontation with, “I’ll think about it,” or “We’ll have to wait until your mother (or father) comes home.” This sets up a long and risky period when a tantrum is likely. For the moment the request is denied, but it was done in a weak way that tempts the child to fight for what he or she wants–plenty of time to try out a tantrum along with other obnoxious behavior.

            Another argument for prompt decisions is that they allow less time for a tantrum to develop and for parents to give in. With delayed decisions, parents are tempted to hold out until bad behavior gets worse. Giving in then is certainly a move in the wrong direction. Delays in decisions and giving in to expanding tantrums develop the childish willingness to try to manipulate others by making them miserable.

            Many parents I know have used the “all stop” method with success. The term comes from the Navy when the ship captain commands, “All stop!” and all engines, whether in reverse, slow, or full speed, are shut down and the ship is dead in the water. For tantrums it means no progress is possible until the tantrum stops–no discussion, no alternatives, no argument. Mom merely says, “We’re in “all stop” until you stop this tantrum.”

            The pitfall to this approach is that most of us parents will not really stop. We are tempted to continue to talk, cajole, plead and threaten–especially if the tantrum gets longer and louder. If this attention is part of the child’s reason for tantruming, then we’re going in the wrong direction by providing attention only for escalation.

            Keep your reactions plain and unentertaining. No sense in providing a new challenge – plain vanilla will do.

            Many parents have told me that tantrums occur at regular times-_ often when routine is disrupted by holidays or company or when the competition from a sibling is the focus. Here’s a good place to keep a behavior record. You may find that food shopping with your child right before dinner is likely to be a tantrum situation or homework arguments right before bed produce the most tantrums.

            The best solution will come from patience with a child not experienced with the unusual stress and not mature enough to handle frustration, hunger, or fatigue without emotion. Parents can help with a thoughtful and consistent reaction when tantrums do erupt.

Dr. McIntire is the author of Raising Your Teenager: 5 Crucial Skills for Moms and Dads and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times. Write him through the Journal or go to www.ParentSuccess.com

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