Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Temper Tantrums: Tips for Parents

A recent article in the Monitor on Psychology, a publication by the American Psychological Association, discussed temper tantrums in preschool children. According to the article, “daily tantrums only occur in less than 10 percent of preschool children, regardless of gender, socioeconomic status or ethnicity.” This was based on a study conducted at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

In my practice over the years, I have encountered many parents who come to my office to cope with their child’s tantrums. Often times, many parents may not seek help for this issue because tantrums are seen as a common behavior among toddlers. However, based on research you can see that only a small number of children exhibit tantrums at a high rate. As a behavioral psychologist, there are a number of ways to manage tantrums. The following tips may be useful.
  • Establish a sleep routine. For many children, their moods are dependent on how much or little sleep they have had the previous night. Children who often have poor sleep habits tend to be more irritable and may exhibit more tantrum behavior. To help prevent tantrums make sure your child gets adequate sleep.
  • Don’t fall into the attention trap. Children often get additional attention when they exhibit tantrums. To decrease tantrum behaviors avoid giving attention to your child when they have a tantrum. For example, if your child has a tantrum, remove attention by looking away and remaining silent. Do not scold the child or tell them to stop crying.
  • Reward appropriate behavior. Occasionally, children exhibit tantrums as a way to communicate their wants and desires. By using rewards, you can shape your child’s appropriate behavior. For example, reward your child for using their words to request objects or for sharing with others if tantrums occur during play.
  • Talk to a psychologist. If tantrum behavior occur more days than not, seek professional help from a behavior therapist or psychologist. Child psychologist and/or behavior therapist are specifically trained to analyze behavior and determine what the function of that behavior is. You can seek an evaluation or functional behavior assessment by a professional who can work with you and your family to determine the best approach to improve your child’s functioning.

Copyright 2012 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.

Note: The following information is intended to be general advice for managing behavior. Please consult with a mental health professional in your area if treatment is desired. You can find a brief list of psychologist at http://locator.apa.org/ provided by the American Psychological Association.