Posts Tagged ‘Tantrums’

What is Child Abuse?
By Dr. Roger McIntire

Caught on tape hitting and punching her 4-year-old daughter, Mom X was charged with battery to a child, the local paper reported. Mom X’s lawyer said they would plead guilty and hope for mercy from the court. She could serve three years in prison.

Thank heavens the little girl is under age. If she were over 18, the sentence could be worse. And if she were under 2, the sentence for hurting a defenseless baby might be worse also. But between 2 and 18 there is a gray area, at least at first, before they get big enough to hit back.

Certainly the courts would not punish a parent for spanking a child unless the spanking left marks or bruises. Cuts and bleeding are out, and anything sexual is out. I guess the message is you can hurt them, but you can’t damage them.

Staying within the law, a parent hitting a child may satisfy his or her own frustration and may feel that justice has been served, but have we made any headway with the child? He or she would certainly learn how to mimic hitting and slapping. You could count on that coming back to haunt you.

We all face life’s daily stress. Mom X was shopping with an out of control 4-year-old who had run off twice. Before Mom “lost it,” what alternatives could we have suggested?

She could have called an early halt to a shopping trip that was getting worse by the minute: “I guess this was a mistake, we are going home.” I’m sure Mom wishes now she had done that. She would have to drag her balking child back to the car, possibly through a crowded mall, but at least the child wouldn’t be learning the bad habit that she could act up at will on shopping trips.

Some “Get Tough” advocates would defend Mom X’s hitting, but they are on the wrong track for several reasons. First, a child faced with physical punishment becomes afraid. Learning slows and creativity stops because it’s too risky to stick your creative neck out if you might get hit for your mistakes.

Second, the hard-line approach will be, must be, inconsistent. A parent cannot, and should not, be consistent with punishment. Without the inconsistencies of warnings, threats and postponements, the rules are too inhuman. Yet with the “verbal decorations” the inconsistencies change the focus from “What’s the problem?” to “Who will win?” The game and the power struggle begin.

Third, slapping, spanking or hitting a child is, of course, insulting. They belittle the child and lower his value of himself. That’s why adults are so insulted if you try these punishments on them. The child defends himself, attempts to escape, or tries to “win” the game. Parents can “win” the power struggle, but for every winner a loser is made. And losers eventually call in absent.

But even when they lose, children imitate. Mom and Dad set the example that physical abuse is a good (used by Mom and Dad) way to deal with people.
The adult alternatives are much better. For example, if you come to my house for dinner tonight and spill your drink at the table, you don’t expect me to say: “Hey! What do you think you’re doing? You’re so clumsy! Now pay attention to what you’re doing or I’ll send you home!”

What nerve! Treating a guest like a child! What happened to “making amends?” “The benefit of the doubt?” You expect me to belittle the problem.

“I’m sorry, do you have a towel?”

“No problem, I’ll take care of it…”

We deal with our mistakes together as a third thing, not you, not me.
Ignoring is also a better alternative, but with children, it has to be used carefully because the bad behavior has been part of a habit to get entertainment or attention from Mom and Dad. The plan can backfire when the inconsistencies creep in. If the usual amount of acting up will no longer get attention, the child may increase the volume. Parents may revert to punishment for this higher level and then return to the ignoring rule later only to go back to punishment when the volume again reaches pain threshold.

To make the ignoring plan work, you need to emphasize the positive things the child does to get legitimate attention.
When bad behavior can’t be ignored and opportunities for encouragement are not enough, time-out is a good alternative. A little cooling off on a chair or in his/her room as a kind of punishment can work well if the threats and arguments are kept to a minimum.

The trick here is to keep the time-out short. A dramatic long isolation will require too many threats and arguments. But short time-outs are no big deal, and parents are more likely to be quick and consistent.

Many parents have found the act of starting the time-out, putting the child in the chair or room, is the effective part. Ten or 15 seconds is enough for two-year-odds, and one minute is enough for older pre-schoolers. The message is sent when the prompt decision is made at the count of three (or ten if they need a little more chance to do right).

Some parents won’t like these alternatives because they will not produce instant change, but then physical punishment won’t produce magic either.

The best parental strategy will include praising the good, ignoring the tolerable, and reacting with logical, mild, and consistent reprimands to the intolerable. This plan will give the children a good model to follow as well as a way to learn and still risk the creativity we all want our children to show.

Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times.


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“Hey, don’t talk to your mother like that!” can be a high moment in a family day. It’s not a happy one but the parent on the firing line gets the message she is supported and the child needs the message that the divide and conquer strategy won’t work. Parent abuse will not be tolerated.

Kevin: I’m going to watch TV now.

Mom: How about your homework?

Kevin: Later, I’ve got plenty of time.

Mom: Didn’t you say your history paper was due tomorrow?

Kevin: Mom, you don’t know anything about how long the paper will take.

Aunt Eileen: Be careful how you talk to your mother. She’s had many years of school; I think she knows.

Kevin: I’ll do it when I’m ready.

Aunt Eileen: Well, I can’t ride you over to your practice until your mother says you’re ready.

Kevin: You didn’t even know about the history paper until Mom brought it up; what do you have to do with it, anyway?

Mom: Don’t talk to your Aunt Eileen that way; she’s concerned about you, too. Now get to that paper so you can make your soccer practice.

Your best protectors are your own relatives, friends, or spouse who come to your aid when it seems parent abuse is likely. They should provide parent protection when their best friend is being mistreated, even by a child.

Jenny: Mom, tie my shoe!

Mom: Just a minute. I’m talking.

Jenny: Do it now!

Eric: (Mom’s close friend) Take it easy, Jenny, let your Mom finish.

Two adults can be stronger than one and they can provide a model to children about how the members of the family should treat each other. Eric wouldn’t let a stranger barge in and make demands of his friend at a restaurant and he’s not going to sit by when her child does it at home either.

How does the parent abuse habit get started? Of course a child’s attitude
comes from many sources, but again the relatives, friends, spouses and extended family play a role from the beginning. They can make the effort to help, or, if they don’t, they can be part of the problem.

Eric: You can’t find your keys? I can’t believe it!

Jane: Just a minute, here they are.

Eric: I swear, you would lose your head if you didn’t have …

An adult game of “I-can’t-believe-you’re-such-a-klutz!” can be easily absorbed by the kids and it’s no help to have an adult friend or relative show the children how to abuse or show disrespect for their parent.

Eric: This car needs some work.

Jane: Why don’t you take it in Monday.

Eric: Me? You’re the one who drives it most!

Jane: I have to get to work early. You just lounge around until 8:00 anyway.

Eric: Hey, that cushy job of yours…

Jane: Wait, wait, let’s get the car fixed, OK?

You may think this argument is about car repairs and who should see that it gets done. But a child listening on the sidelines doesn’t understand – doesn’t care to understand – the details of dropping a car off for repairs. As with their own conversations, children have their “antennae out” and are more interested in what the conversations say about how the people feel about each other than in the content of the conversation. They often get it wrong.

So after a simple disagreement on the car, Eric may be surprised to hear Jenny say: “You don’t like Mommy, do you?”

“What! Of course I do, whatever gave you that idea?”

The misunderstanding can be corrected, but the temptation to imitate the attitude they heard will linger on. The impression will only be corrected by future examples from you – and from the Erics and Aunt Eileens of your child’s world.

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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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            About three letters from reader-parents come to my email each week. Over the last ten years I have accumulated over 600 letters—almost half are about tantrums.

            Successes and failures have taught me to look first at diet and sleeping habits and then at the child’s social environment, particularly at what happens next—right after the first sign of a tantrum.

            The diet connection. Emotional problems are not always related to how a child is treated. Even adults have come to recognize occasional emotional irritations from coffee or lack of it, certain foods, headaches, medications, delay of meals or even missing water for too long.

Children hardly ever get the connection between these sources and their blues and grumps. It’s up to the parents to find the diet-sleep-behavior connections. Even serious problems such as bipolar disorders or ADHD can be aggravated by allergic and food sensitivities. These sensitivities may show up as behavioral irritations—sometimes as the result of diet-related restless sleep—rather than as dramatic events such as hives or stomach aches.

Parents may need records of moods and diet to see that a child’s mood swings are related to certain foods. Most doctors won’t ask you to keep such records, but the information can be very useful whether or not a medication is required.

A good way to start is with the most likely culprits: caffeine, sugar, chocolate, eggs, and milk products. Draw up a chart with the days marked down the side and hours across the top. Tape it on the refrigerator.

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