Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tantrums! Not your child, right?

I just read an article in Parenting, The Early Years, titled "The Biology of Bad Behavior."  While there are no magic tips to turn your child into a tantrum-free dream, the article does provide some data to help assure you that it's not just YOUR child that acts like that.  It helps, right?
For instance, did you know that the average tantrum lasts about 3 minutes?  The prefrontal cortex (PFC) of the brain is responsible for regulating emotion and social behavior.  The good thing is, in a toddler, it is still developing so your little one won't dwell on what happened 10 minutes ago and is ready to cuddle and love on you shortly after an outburst.  Unfortunately, "their outbursts are as normal a biological response to anger and frustration as a yawn is to fatigue."
So, what do you do?  Michael Portegal, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist, suggests asking yourself, "What function does this inappropriate behavior serve?"  If your kiddo is throwing a fit because he/she wants attention or an item, you should stay calm and ignore them.  However, if the tantrum is because the child doesn't want to do what you have asked, ignoring them gives in to what it is he/she is wanting.  Portegal uses the example of putting on a coat - give the child a time frame (i.e. 5 seconds) to do it on their own or you will help him/her.  If the child does not comply, take the child's hands in yours and gently force it on.  If hitting or biting occurs while you are trying to get the coat on, finish putting the coat on and then enforce your standard discipline - time-out, taking away a privilege or toy, etc.
I think the best line in the entire article is, "If you get just as mad and irrational as your child during a tantrum, it's like throwing gas on a fire."  Sigh - sometimes this one is hard.  Good luck, moms, and know that you are not alone!

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