Taming Tantrums

Tuesday, April 5, 2011 - 8:51am

When do parents know t's more than a meltdown and a sign of more serious problems?

Many parents lose patience when their kids erupt into anger, but when is a temper tantrum more than a meltdown, and a sign of a serious problem?

Child psychologist Dr. Alan Hilfer says children throw tantrums because they are either frustrated or want something they know they can't have.

"You have to be able to tell them unless you can get yourself under control and tell me what it is that you need, I'm not going to be able to help you and then kind of walk away without reinforcing it," he says.

Helen Kuenstler says that's easier said than done.

Her son Jack is almost 3-years-old and can be quite vocal when he's not happy.

"When he gets out of control, I ignore him. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Or sometimes I just give into whatever he wants cause it's easier," she says.

Which is exactly what Dr. Hilfer says not to do.

"Giving into tantrums usually reinforces that if they make enough fuss they get what they want, they do it more often," he says.

Experts say tantrums are a normal part of the growing process, but if they continue as the child grows older that can lead to behavioral and social problems as adults.

"Kids shouldn't be having tantrums in adolescence," notes Dr. Hilfer. "They should have the ability to negotiate and express what they want certainly in their tween years."

Since Jack is a long way from his tween years, Helen's willing to let him be and hope that in a more structured environment like school, he'll throw less tantrums.

"I'm not really as concerned because he's a good kid so I know it's a phase. Hopefully he'll grow out of it," she says.

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