Can you say that a child is just having tantrums when at several times of the day he throws a fit? My son, 3 years of age [will] shout right away and cry every time we tell him that movie time is over or if we do not allow him to do what he wants. He would then start throwing things, shout loud and when I tell him to pick up what he threw he would not follow me. He seems to be so hard-headed lately and I feel that I am having a hard time controlling his acts and disciplining him. I try to talk him out, make him understand but it seems that he does not understand and keeps on shouting. I also tried distracting him but it does not seem to work that much. It happens several times daily and it is so frustrating. i hope you could give me an advice on this. thanks.
From: Young Mom, Philippines
Dear Young Mom,
There are lots of reason why a child this age might have tantrums. Here are just a few:
* he can't make himself understood; perhaps his verbal skills aren't good enough yet.
* he can't understand you; perhaps he can't hear you well enough.
* he isn't sure about consequences; perhaps you are inconsistent in setting limits and/or following through with consequences.
As you can see, there can be different problems, but they mostly boil down to frustration. Kids have different thresholds, just like adults. Once that frustration level is reached, and you react out of your own frustration, the two of you get into a vicious cycle that's hard to get out of and you end up feeding off each other in negative ways.
I think what's tripping you up is that you've forgotten that your job as a parent is to figure out where your child is developmentally and then feed into his or her strengths. This takes consistency as well as an understanding of where, in fact, a child is at any point in development. Sound hard? It gets harder. At any moment, the typical child moves back and forth between the stage he's coming from, the stage he's smack in the middle of, and the stage he's moving into. Sadly, our kids don't wear neon signs that say, "Hey mom, I'm regressing."
For instance, developmentally, 3-year-olds have a very muddy concept of time. Telling him to turn off the TV/video now, doesn't compute. Here's one way to help him: When you turn it on, tell him, "You can watch one program. When it's over, it will be bath time." Use something concrete in the program that he will recognize as the "five minutes more" time. He won't understand "five minutes," but he will get that it's almost time to end. Do it again at two minutes. The idea is to give him time to prepare so it doesn't feel -- to him -- like your request is out of the blue. And here's what's critical: when it ends and you turn it off and he throws a tantrum, don't relent. Children feel safer and respond better when they know what to expect. Let's say that on Tuesday, you say, "OK, one more program," and you're mellow about it. Wed, you say, "No way, we're done," and you're angry. On Thursday, he's totally confused. He doesn't know what to expect. He's gonna have a whopper of a tantrum.
Another good strategy is to try what Harvey Karp calls the "caveman" approach. Anticipate what is likely to frustrate him and head it off at the pass by labeling the feeling -- "I can see you're getting frustrated." Showing empathy by commiserating: "You want the truck NOW!" Once you acknowledge his feeling and he knows he's been heard, he's more likely to tolerate the distraction you now offer: "Let's play with this truck until John is finished playing." Caveat: This doesn't work once the tantrum is full-blown. When he's in the middle of a tantrum, a child can't hear you.
I've been told that "Mini-magic" is the single most helpful column I ever wrote. It's filled with helpful strategies. I hope something works for you.
Readers, can you help her out? What works for you?
The author is solely responsible for the content.