Help! - Thomaston,ME

Updated on November 05, 2009
M.D. asks from Thomaston, ME
17 answers

My son likes to argue and have tantrums at the drop of a hat, and some ppl are questioning me if he has ADD or if he is Bi-polar...I beg to differ and just say that its just a phase and that he will grow out of it. I am constantly repeating myself and telling him to stop this or NO, he doesn't always listen the first time he is told. Does anyone else have this problem. BTW my son is 6 and in first grade. Some days I am just at the end of my ropes and I need the time out.

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So What Happened?

well thanks to everyone so far for the input i will take everything into thought. and as far as picking my battles, ive heard that over and over, and i do try but its hard, and for the ignoring same thing. theres only so much i can do. ive even tried to go to my room and leave him in the living room while he was crying or having a tantrum, no such luck, he would pound on my door and not leave me alone. and he does okay in school, he is after all only in 1st seeing a pattern, he takes after me in academics.....that outta be fun! **rolls her eyes**

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answers from New London on

I have the same problem with my 4 yr old son! He is having problems at school (kindergarten), and no one will take him overnight because of his listening problem. He has concentration problems, and issues with anger as well...if he doesn't get his own way, or gets too frustrated. I believe, that just like myself, it's a stubborness and not a deficit in his mental abilities...I was the same way as a child ((I was told :-) )), and so, I try and take the time to talk to him and explain why things must be this way, such as when it's time to come in, or time for home work, and if this doesn't work, I do resort to a time out to think about why there have to be rules, and explain it to him on his level. He's been getting better, and hope his is just a phase too! lol

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answers from Boston on

hi i know the feeling i also have a 6 yr old son who was acting the same way and every one asked me if he had adhd and i also said no he had been like this since about 5 yrs old and it got to me so bad that he wouldnt listen to me no matter what kind of punishment i gave him so i talked to his dr any she refered me to a counsler who dealt with this type of behavior and they said he had adhd/odd which i know you know what adhd is but if you dont know what odd is its oppitistional ? defient disorder which means he just wont do what you tell him they dont have meds for odd but they do have it for adhd which in turns helps with the odd i was totally against putting him on meds but finnally i gave in for my sons sake so they put him on a low dose only 10 mg once a day its been about 2 months now and i swear its a totally different child i mean he'll still act up like a regular 6 yr old but every day isn't a 24 hr battle with him any more so its just a sugesstion but maybe you should talk to his dr about it oh and with the med he is on he still has his same personality he doesnt act like he's all medicated but thats why i was against it in the first place but it will be for your sons best interest if this is what he has to deal with it now hope every thing works out and if you have any questions please let me know or if you just want to vent i'm here

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

These articles are dead-on! With my son, when I ignore it, he honestly stops after a few minutes. Or I put him in his room when he's uspet. I hope these help!

Just Ignore It
When you're faced with whining or tantrums, the best reaction may be no reaction
By Barbara Rowley

I'm on an airplane, and my 3-year-old daughter is beating her baby doll's head against the back of the seats in front of us. The seats are empty, and despite my wondering whether the person across the aisle thinks I'm raising a pathologically aggressive child, and knowing that the banging really does bug me, I'm ignoring it. This, I promise you, doesn't come easily.

I want to tell Anna to put the doll down. I want to explain that it isn't nice to bang Baby. I want to grab it and stuff it into my bag. But the reality is, she's not banging the doll all that hard, and it's not making much noise, hurting the doll or the seat, or, appearances aside, indicative of any deep-seated psychosis. Anna's just bored, and I'm mostly worried about what other people might think. Realizing this makes it easier. I don't comment on the doll-pummeling and instead offer her stickers. She takes them, and the doll, now at her feet, is spared. So are Anna and I, who have resolved the incident without confrontation.

Moderating my reaction and gently redirecting my daughter's behavior (or, in some cases, out and out ignoring it) is a parenting skill I've only recently — and sporadically — put into practice. It runs counter to my quick-response, take-action, talk-it-out personality. And the airplane episode was one of the easier ones for me to cope with. Sidelong glances from strangers and battered plastic babies I can ignore. But what about whining, or tantrums, or eleventh-hour bedtime begging? I know that my usual reactions — exasperation, exhortation, submission — will never put an end to these annoyances, and may in fact encourage them. Could I apply nonreaction to these as well?

Doing Nothing Is Hard Work

For most parents, "Just don't react" is the kind of advice that's easier said than done. It's not difficult to understand why. For starters, many things our kids do are really irritating, so we rise to the bait and react. Loudly. Or their whined demands go on long enough that we just give in, even though we know we shouldn't. But regardless of whether the problem is surrendering to a tyrannical toddler's order that you throw out her sandwich and make her a new one cut in squares, or being pushed noisily to the end of your rope by a preschooler crying because she's not allowed to wear your pearl necklace to the playground, ignoring obnoxious behavior doesn't really mean you do nothing. What it means is that you ignore your exasperated or enraged gut response and offer one that is reasoned and calm instead.

Brooke Hummer Mower of Chicago, the mother of a 5- and a 7-year old, admits a lack of parental backbone when it comes to her boys' stalling tactics. "I know I should ignore them when they ask to change their clothes again and again during the half hour before we leave for school," she says. "They start saying, 'These pants are too tight, and I want this hat — no, I want the other one.' I know I should put my foot down. Instead, I indulge them." Which brings up the other factor that can make these situations difficult: No parent wants to ignore a child's legitimate requests or feelings. Maybe his pants are too tight.

Effectively ignoring your child as a parenting strategy means sorting out the difference between his deliberate (and often obnoxious) attention-getting behaviors and his very real needs. It means figuring out what's going to set a precedent you'll have to deal with in the future and what's a passing developmental fad. And it means understanding what motivates your child's behavior — and your own.

This is what I managed to do successfully on the plane. I ignored the doll-bonking but succeeded in stopping it through a reasoned reaction: diversion via stickers. So how can you disregard the merely annoying while correcting the unacceptable?

Know Why You Matter

Your reaction, or lack thereof, has an effect only because your child cares about and notices so completely what you do and think — despite apparent evidence to the contrary. This is why seeming to do nothing, in response to their best efforts to get you to do otherwise, can be so effective.

"It's a powerful tool," says Mary Engleman-Kemmer of Wichita, KS, the mom of three, ages 12, 9, and 5. "Mine know they haven't pleased me if I ignore them. If I'm not reacting to them, it's like they're in a time-out."

Your child's attention to what you think and feel is also the reason that allowing yourself to get caught up in a cycle of knee-jerk scolding can be detrimental. Nobody wants her child to say "poop" and "pee" over and over. But just because a toddler or preschooler is doing this during the course of a few days doesn't mean he's on the road to swearing like a sailor (make a big deal of it, though, and it may last longer than a few days).

"If your child does something that is not dangerous but obnoxious, and you respond in an overly negative way, you run the risk of starting a vicious cycle that ultimately has a life of its own," explains psychologist Ernest Frugé, Ph.D., coauthor of Why Children Misbehave and What to Do About It. "In other words, a minor incident could turn into a major problem. And the lesson your child learns is that he can get your attention immediately through irritating behavior."

Ironically, attention may not have been his original goal. He may just have been experimenting with language, figuring out what he is and isn't allowed to say, a common goal of potty talk at this age. So how should you react?

Buy Some Time

Say you've just finished folding the laundry when your 2-year-old tips it over, climbs into the empty basket, then jumps out onto the clothes. You're understandably annoyed. But instead of showing it, let your first response be none at all. During this brief pause, think about your child's motivation. It's possible that she doesn't understand what she's done and is just having fun. Or perhaps she understands exactly what she's done and is trying to get your goat. Either way, stopping for a second or two helps you figure out the lesson you want to get across and how — or if — you'll respond.

And, says Frugé, "when you pause for a moment to figure out how you want to react, you show your child a calm way to handle provocation, and you demonstrate how to control and manage irritation with others."

Ignore Behavior; Respond To Emotion

Certain things kids do are almost guaranteed to rile even the most sweet-tempered parent. The top culprit? Whining, by a long shot. It's probably the behavior most deserving of disregard. But that doesn't mean it's a call to inaction.

"It never hurts to acknowledge your child's feelings," says Phyllis Sonnenschein, a senior consultant for Families First Parenting Programs, in Cambridge, MA. "But do so with a smile and then move on: 'Yes, I know you want that cereal, but you know what the rules are about sweet cereals. That's just the way it is.'" This way, you're not giving in to a request you've deemed unreasonable but responding to the completely normal underlying frustration.

Trickier than whining is its big brother: crying. Parents get caught up trying to quiet wailing both to make their child feel better and to protect their own sanity. But, as with whining, crying doesn't always call for more than a simple acknowledgment of what's behind it, unless it's due to pain or fear.

Suppose your child sobs when the video he's watching ends and you announce that it's time for bed — your basic, run-of-the-mill "No, I don't want to go to bed, I want to watch another video!" scene. Obviously, you don't want to just give in — it's bedtime. But you don't totally ignore him, either. "Tell him you're sorry he's sad or angry, and if he feels like crying, it's okay, and when he's done, you can read together or cuddle," suggests Sonnenschein. Then scoop him up and proceed with toothbrushing and getting ready for bed. The bottom line: If the tears aren't caused by a true crisis, don't treat the outburst like one.

Decide Beforehand What You Will React To

Obviously, dangerous activities or violent fights among siblings can't be ignored — not even for a moment. Nor can the behavior that you and your partner have agreed beforehand just isn't acceptable. Both of these situations require consistent and immediate attention. And by reacting strongly to only those few things you've decided are beyond the pale, you increase the impact and the effectiveness of your response.

What parents find they simply can't ignore differs from family to family, even situation to situation. Carol Colby of Thomaston, GA, the mother of two boys, 2 and 4, shares my inability to ignore tantrumlike screaming, especially in front of others. "When my parents visit, my four-year-old acts up because he thinks I'm less likely to discipline him in front of them. But it drives me nuts, so I don't ignore it. I just tell my parents, 'Okay, I'm going to deal with this even when you are here so I can change it.'"

For others, like Mower, screaming isn't nearly the issue that language has become for her 7-year-old. "It wasn't as big a deal when he was little and didn't know what he was saying. But now, when he calls me names, I can't ignore it. There's always a consequence, like no TV."

What you respond to will change over time depending on your child's age, and even on your own growth as a parent. Engleman-Kemmer admits that until she had her second child, she never ignored anything her first one did. "I just reacted — until one day at the park he threw a tantrum, and I needed to put the baby in the stroller. I ignored him because it was inconvenient to do anything else, and he just pulled himself together on his own. That's when I realized I'd been reinforcing his behavior."

As for my own difficult-to-ignore parenting situations, I'm still striving for such successes as the baby-banging episode, and I'm making progress. Anna had been stretching out nap- and bedtime rituals with a litany of requests — a quick snack, one more book — so I began simply acknowledging them but not acting on them. Since then, I've had her down in record time. The other day, as naptime approached, she screamed and cried that she wasn't tired. Fifteen minutes later, having just asked for a drink of water, she was sound asleep in my arms.

Contributing editor Barbara Rowley is the author of Baby Days: Activities, Ideas, and Games for Enjoying Daily Life With a Child Under Three.

When [I {You}] Get No Reaction
By Teresa Martinez

"Come clean up your toys," you call. Once. Twice. A little louder. Once more. No answer. How could she possibly not have heard that? Before you go marching angrily over to your child to punish her for ignoring you, your first step should be to figure out why you're not getting a response. It's possible she really didn't hear you, says Jacqueline Haines, executive director of the Gesell Institute of Human Development, an organization in New Haven, CT, that studies children's behavior. She could be so engrossed in an activity that she's totally unaware that you're calling. But don't just step in and end the game or turn off the TV, says Haines; that's as good as demanding a blowup or a tantrum. Instead, squat down next to her, eye to eye, and explain that in a few minutes, or as soon as she finishes the game, she'll have to stop what she's doing and pick up her toys. By issuing a warning and refocusing her attention, you're setting up a structure, which will make her more likely to comply. Sometimes, a child may ignore a parental imperative because of request overload. Throw too many commands at a young child all at once, and chances are he won't follow any of them. But if you've made one simple request, you know he heard you, he knows he heard you, and you know he knows he heard you, then it's time for the countdown — with consequences — if he doesn't respond or comply, says Haines. If by the time you count to ten, for instance, he doesn't acknowledge your request, then some kind of punishment, such as no video or trip to the playground that afternoon, should follow.

Parenting, August 2002

Choose Your Battles
How to end power struggles with your child -- so you both win
By Pamela Redmond Satran

I was sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for a friend, when from behind me there arose a great hue and cry.

"Matthew, it's cold out — you have to wear your mittens."


"Put on your mittens like a good boy and Mommy will give you a cookie."


Now Dad, in a commanding tone: "Matthew, put on your mittens right this instant."

"I won't!"

Dad to Mom: "Hold him while I shove them on."

This was the toddler's cue to start wailing in earnest.

Mom to little boy: "Fine, don't wear them. If your hands get cold, it's your problem."

Dad to Mom again: "It's freezing outside. He'll get frostbite."

Mom to Dad: "If his hands get cold, he'll put the mittens on. Come on, everybody's staring. We have to get him out of here."

The family blessedly packed up and left the restaurant, both parents frazzled and Matthew still screaming and resisting the mittens. Their exchange had been painful to listen to — and that was an edited version—partly because the emotions ran so high, to so little effect, and over such a small thing. And partly because I'd been in exactly that place myself, far too painfully and inextricably, with my own first child.

Power struggle. The words popped into my head before the family was even out the door. I'd never been able to identify it when I was locked into one with my own small and willful daughter, but that's clearly what this was.

Anatomy of a power struggle

At its most basic, a power struggle is a battle for control, with parent and child duking it out over which one gets to decide what the child eats or wears, how he spends time or what he plays with, where he goes and when. The key ingredient, though, is that the actual object of the dispute is often not its crux. Usually, either the child is pushing for control beyond his years or capabilities, or the parent's holding on tight to control something that would be better ceded to the child.

There are other earmarks that distinguish a power struggle from a run-of-the-mill discipline problem, says Jan Faull, a Seattle-based parenting educator and author of Unplugging Power Struggles: Resolving Emotional Battles With Your Kids Ages 2 to 10.

Typically, emotions run much higher than the issue — whether eating peas or wearing a tutu to preschool — would seem to merit. Your child objects to a simple request, and you ("It's the principal of the thing!") decide that you're just not going to put up with this insubordination. Unfortunately, if the battles become a pattern and occur again and again without being resolved, they can come to characterize, and undermine, your relationship.

Like the parents in the restaurant, I tried everything I could think of — bribing, begging, insisting, threatening, ignoring — to get my daughter to do what I wanted, all to no avail. Was I a bad mother, or was she a difficult kid? And were we simply destined to drive each other crazy?

Why bad battles happen to good parents

I always wondered why I wrestled so with my oldest child, Rory, while largely escaping such strife with her two younger brothers, and I invented complicated theories to account for it: my relative inexperience as a parent; because she was a girl and I was hesitant to lay down the law with her like I did with her brothers; the other way around — I was stricter with her because she was a girl, like me, and I went easier on the boys. But the reasons were likely more straightforward than that — and they are for you as well:


Some kids are just more determined to grab control at a younger age and so are more likely to end up in battles with their parents. "Such kids just wear you out," says Faull. "You love them, but they're the future CEOs: They have very clear ideas about how things should be, but they're sitting at home being told what to do by their parents."

"Our oldest child always has an opinion about what she wants to do," says Jill Goodrich, an Amarillo, Texas, mom of a 4-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 2 years and 6 months. "I want her to have an independent spirit, and I know these qualities of taking the initiative and having a mind of her own are things I'll love as she gets older. But now she tries to dictate what we ought to do as a family, and it can make life very difficult."

And some situations may provoke power struggles with kids who are normally mild-mannered and compliant: My usually laid-back older son, Joe, rebelled at going to nursery school when he just wanted to stay home with Mom.


Most kids, even those with less assertive personalities, are likely to engage in power struggles when they hit a stage of development that makes them seek more self-control, commonly around age 2 (and again in adolescence).

Physical depletion
And then there are those power struggles that arise when a child is hungry, stressed, or tired, so her emotions escalate until they're out of hand.

"I was at the mall the other day and I saw a mother begging a little girl to get in the car, and the child was sobbing because there was something in the store she wanted," says Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, a Minneapolis family educator and author of Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles: Winning for a Lifetime. "You could tell by the child's body language and voice that she was exhausted; odds are she'd missed her nap that day. So forgo basic needs like that at your own risk."

It's essential, before you respond, to figure out what's really fueling the battle. There's always the chance it's you.

Sometimes it is your fault

A dad I know used to engage every morning in a power struggle with his now 6-year-old daughter over what she was going to wear to preschool. The girl didn't want to get dressed, or wanted to wear a sleeveless dress in the middle of winter, or tights and boots in the heat of summer, or mix the purple plaid with the orange polka dots — the specifics changed from day to day. My friend and his wife tried to limit the number of clothing options and tried choosing outfits the night before — they tried everything, yet somehow every day started with a veritable donnybrook over the little girl's outfit.

Finally, the proverbial lightbulb blinked on. Instead of wondering why his daughter was locked in this battle, my friend began to think about why he was. He realized that he was more worried about what people would think of him when they saw his daughter's outfits than about any real health or safety issues. If he let go of his need to control what she wore, then the power struggle would be over and mornings would be much happier. And so they were.

Since there's little you can do to change your child's sensitivity, adaptability, persistence, and need for routine, you may for the time being need to adapt a bit. A child who's both emotional and slow to adjust to change, for instance, the way my youngest son, Owen, is, may need a five-minute heads up before transitions (rather than having Mom barrel in without warning to announce that "we have to leave — now!").

Still, for even the best-intentioned parent with the most ingenious solutions, power struggles happen. What then?

To stop the strife

You have three choices to deal with any power struggle: back off, lay down the law, or negotiate. The trick is figuring out when to use which.

Back off

This might be the smartest choice when the control your child wants is appropriate for her age and skill level and it ultimately doesn't matter. Knowing that you want to cede some control to your child can help you simply step away from some fights before they happen.

It may be easier to do this with second and third children rather than firstborns because with experience, parents learn that some issues simply aren't worth the battle. With my younger two, for instance, I was more likely to let them veg out in front of cartoons or leave the beans on their plate, knowing that over time they'd get tired of TV and make healthier eating choices.

It also makes sense to back off over issues you're not going to win on, no matter what you say or do. Ultimately, you can't force your kids to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, speak, or think according to your wishes. So just set safe, healthy rules and back off. Won't sleep? Fine, just lie there. Won't eat any dinner? Fine, but no cookies, either.

Lay down the law

Insisting your child follow your orders works only if you aren't wishy-washy about it and don't get lured into a lengthy debate about your decision. So dig in only on truly important things, where the lesson a child might learn from disregarding your advice isn't as important as the danger in doing so: "You're wearing your shoes because there's broken glass here, and that's final." Then don't give in.

"Saying 'You're doing it my way because I'm the parent and I said so' works best with health, safety, and value issues," says Faull. Those things are clearly the parent's choice. "With other things, children need to be able to slowly grasp the reins of life and even learn from mistakes. The best route is usually to offer choices and decisions appropriate to the child's age."

Negotiate, compromise, give options

These are all ways to meet a fighter halfway. But don't feel you have to provide unlimited choices — your child can't choose candy for breakfast, after all: "You don't want to leave the playground? Okay, we can stay twenty more minutes, but then we won't have time to go to the video store, so you'll have to decide which you want more."

Whichever path you choose in dealing with the power struggle, it's vital to downshift the emotional intensity. If you can step back from the emotions on your end, chances are your child will follow.

Let your first step be to pause. Stopping your agitated response encourages your child to stop, too, because there's no argument going on. Then you can decide which of the three resolution tactics — backing off, laying down the law, or negotiating — you're going to take.

The gray zone

Many parents report wrestling with their children over constantly shifting issues — a battle over clothing choices morphs into a breakfast fight that shifts into resistance over leaving the house — and say their kids are clever enough combatants to press when they sense their parents are too weak to resist.

"Especially when there's a new baby sibling, you're so exhausted it's like, 'I know I should send you to your room, but I'm just going to give you the cookie, I'm just going to give in,'" says Jill Goodrich.

But maybe giving in is the smartest tack at that moment. "If you're wiped out, under a lot of stress, that's not the time to hold the line on anything that isn't critically important," says Faull.

In other words: Give yourself and your child a break. You might say something like "We've all had a hard day, so I'm going to say yes to the cookie as a special treat. But usually we don't eat cookies before dinner." And saying the occasional yes can make it easier to say — and enforce — the customary no.

So what about that little boy in the restaurant who didn't want to wear his mittens? There was a potential health and safety issue — it was cold outside — but the family's car wasn't far away, so the issue wasn't so clear-cut. And the parents were also under pressure, being in a crowded restaurant with a screaming child — a child who was undoubtedly under equal pressure from being cooped up in a toddler-unfriendly establishment.

The parents could have offered the boy the choice of wearing his mittens or being carried to the car so he could keep his hands warm against his mom, though a toddler might not be able to understand that kind of choice and resist both options.

But in this case, "the most logical solution might just have been to say, 'Let's walk outside and see how cold it is, and then you can decide if you want your mittens,'" suggests Kurcinka. "Chances are, if he got cold he'd want to put them on." This is what the mother ended up saying, so the whole thing could have been avoided if she'd simply started out there. The parents lost sight of the fact that in a suburban parking lot the stakes were pretty low.

Even those power struggles without clear-cut solutions offer a chance to show your child how to solve problems, to teach him that you're a family that tackles conflicts and moves on. It's a lesson that's certainly worth at least a few restaurant tantrums.

Parenting, September 2006

No More Tantrums
The best ways to tame — and prevent — them
By Karen Miles

When my daughter hannah was 4 — safely past the tantrum stage, I thought — she had her first meltdown. In a crowded restaurant, in the middle of a family dinner, she threw a full-fledged fit because the cheese slid off her pizza and onto her plate. Her three siblings, her dad, and I watched in amazement as she flailed and screamed inconsolably. Her father whisked her outside to the car, where she eventually ran out of steam, while the rest of us sat at the table, amused and incredulous.
Of course, tantrums don't only happen during the "terrible twos" — kids have outbursts like Hannah's from the time they become mobile until they start school (and sometimes beyond). Understanding why and how children erupt this way can help us empathize, cope, and even cut down on the behavior.

Tantrum Triggers
At any age, a child will be more prone to outbursts when he's hungry, tired, or ill, says Meg Eastman, Ph.D., author of Taming the Dragon in Your Child. And if he's stressed — whether because of normal developmental leaps like learning to walk or use the toilet; changes in environment or routine; or everyday emotions, such as fear or jealousy — he's also more likely to pitch a fit.

Throw in the frustration that can occur over a variety of situations throughout his day, and you have all the necessary ingredients for an out-of-control reaction. Your baby may protest when you rescue him from an enticing but dangerous situation, such as an electrical outlet. A toddler might ignite over her desire to be independent, while preschoolers are often set off by their inability to do something, such as tie their shoes, or by occurrences that simply don't meet their expectations. Shlomo List, 4, of Baltimore, would fall apart when the ketchup wound up in the wrong place on his plate or when his mom cut his sandwich straight across instead of diagonally.

Sometimes, a child's need to cry gradually builds, and then the slightest disappointment sets her off. For Hannah, the slippery cheese on her pizza — surely not the day's first letdown — was just a pretext to release her tension.

Although lack of control is a given, occasionally you may wonder whether a tantrum is staged. "But even a child who's trying to manipulate you with a tantrum doesn't feel good about it," says Gery LeGagnoux, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of psychology at UCLA. "He simply feels he doesn't have another avenue to get what he wants or needs, or he doesn't know how to find one." Don't waste too much time trying to determine whether your child is purposefully pushing your buttons — in either case, your response should be the same.

Taming the Beast
One thing you definitely shouldn't do when your child has a tantrum: Give in. That teaches her that an outburst works. Instead:

• Stay calm and focused. Your primary goal is to comfort your child so that he can regain control. Soothe a baby with your voice as you rock him. Tell a toddler or preschooler firmly, but with empathy, that you know he's upset but you can't help him until he calms down. You want him to understand that his tantrum isn't getting him anywhere but that you're there for him when he settles down.
Angie Tucker of Garden Grove, CA, says it made all the difference in 3-year-old Joshua's tantrums when she shifted her approach from punitive to supportive. When time-outs and yelling didn't work, she tried talking calmly to Joshua when he got upset. She took him in her arms and asked him to tell her what the problem was. "He realized I wasn't fighting him. I didn't give in to his demands, but I let him know I cared."
• Hold on. Many children, like Joshua, respond well to being held — especially early on in a tantrum — because it gives them a bit of security when they're otherwise feeling out of control. You're not spoiling her or caving in to her needs by hugging an angry child. Some kids, though, are overstimulated by physical contact when they're upset. If your child becomes more irritated when you touch her, don't force it. Just go about your business nearby and tell her, "I'll stay here until you feel okay."
• Distract. You might be able to divert a child under 3 from a tantrum, especially if you catch him before he's totally lost control. Try to arouse his interest in something you're doing — start to color, for example — or in something you spot out the window: "That bird has a red cap!"
• Respect the need to let it all out. "Cries and outbursts have a healing effect," says Aletha Solter, Ph.D., author of Tears and Tantrums. "Children use them to resolve their feelings and release tension." Instead of trying to stop them, teach your child to let out her anger and frustration at an appropriate time, to calm herself down when she can, and to let you be her ally. Stop her if she becomes destructive or disruptive, but don't insist on "shushing" her when there's really no need.

Strategies for the Real World
Sure, the advice seems reasonable now, but how can you put it to use when you're faced with a kid who's shrieking and shaking his fists at you? Some likely scenarios, and how to handle them:
• Your 9-month-old cries endlessly when you pick her up just short of her destination — the cord from the drapes in your living room. Childproofing your home is the best — and safest — solution: Do everything you can to minimize the number of times you'll need to admonish your child. When you do need to say no, try distraction. Give her a toy to play with after she's out of harm's way.
• Your 2-year-old has a playmate over, but he screams whenever his friend reaches for his favorite toy. "Parents need to have realistic expectations for their kids," says Rona Novick, Ph.D., coordinator of child psychology at Schneider Children's Hospital, in New Hyde Park, NY. A 2-year-old shouldn't be expected to share a prized toy, so before visitors arrive, you might decide together which toys he's willing to share and which ones to put away. If he has an outburst over the toys that are fair game, calmly take him out of the room and explain that he can join his friend again when he quiets down. Keep in mind that he simply might not be ready to share anything yet!
• Your 3-year-old gets into a tizzy at the toy store. Kids at this age can be especially strong-willed, but try to enforce the same rules in public that you do at home, says Novick. Otherwise, your child will learn she can manipulate you in certain (embarrassing) circumstances. Set limits ahead of time: "We'll buy one small toy for you after we find a birthday present for your brother." Once a tantrum starts, immediately take your child out of the store, then help her calm down. Teach her that she gets things only when she behaves well. When the dust has settled, explain that you won't take her back to the store until she gets a better handle on how to behave there. Whatever you do, don't let her think there's any benefit to throwing a tantrum in public.
• Your 4-year-old falls apart while struggling with his shoelaces. Preschoolers are often obsessed with doing everything for themselves. When you can, allow extra time for your child to futz with his buttons and laces, and teach him the skills he's ready to master. Give lots of encouragement and offer to help once you see his frustration mounting: "You really work at learning to do new things!" If he's having a full-fledged tantrum, simply tell him you understand and that you can help him learn to tie when he's feeling better.
• Your 5-year-old melts down at a birthday party. Big events like these are fraught with triggers. Your child may be overstimulated, or tired, or disappointed that she didn't win any party games. In any case, you'll need to separate her from the other kids. Take her to a quiet area if there's a possibility that she'll collect herself, or take her home if she's really at the end of her rope. She'll probably feel terrible about having to leave and miss out on things, so have her talk about it, and how she might handle a similar situation differently.

The Aftermath
No matter the scenario, once the hysterics subside, your child's likely to be exhausted and plenty unhappy with himself. He just lost control, and gaining control is often what much of the fuss is about in the first place. So resist the urge to lecture, blame, or punish. Instead, find something positive to say, like "You did a good job calming yourself down." Don't give in to any of his demands, but do give him a clean slate, then enjoy something relaxing together — take a walk, read a book, mix a batch of cookies. Just don't pay him an unusual amount of attention, or he'll think that meltdowns are the best way to get your attention.

If your child's tantrums get worse, or are accompanied by frequent nightmares, regression, stomachaches, or headaches, talk to your pediatrician — these may be signs of something more serious than an everyday developmental struggle. More likely, though, as your child matures and can better handle his growing independence, the sound and the fury will ease off — if not completely, at least enough for you to catch your breath between episodes.

Cultivating Calm
Teaching your child how to handle her emotions and behavior will help her deal with frustration and make her less likely to throw tantrums — or at least cool down faster when she does.
• Explain how to describe what she's feeling. From the time she begins to talk, encourage her to name her emotions — happy, sad, angry, mad. Let her know it's okay to feel anything and to talk about those feelings with you.
• Discuss ways she might calm herself down whenever she's angry. Suggest counting slowly to ten, humming a song, pretending to be a rag doll to loosen the tension in her body, or drawing a picture of her feelings or making up a song about them.
• Provide a special place to settle down, such as the bedroom or a comfy chair. It's all right to stay with your child if that helps, but some kids prefer to be alone.
A Pound of Prevention
You can't eliminate your child's need to blow off steam, but you can help minimize his frustration and give him a sense of control, which may hinder at least a few outbursts.
• Set realistic limits, about the most important issues only. A mismatched outfit isn't worth upsetting him over.
• Present options — but not too many, which can be overwhelming. Rather than ask, "What do you want for breakfast?" ask, "Do you want cereal or waffles?"
• Introduce the concept of waiting so he can learn that it's not so terrible. Psychology professor Gery LeGagnoux, Ph.D., uses clapping games ("clap, clap, wait, clap") to show toddlers what it means to wait. Or give him a piece of candy to carry in his pocket. If he doesn't eat it until a set time (say, two hours), he can eat that piece and also receive a second.
• Eliminate triggers. Make sure he isn't hungry or tired when you go shopping, for instance.
• Show him how to get what he wants. If he behaves well during the day, tell him he can have a (slightly) later bedtime.
• Give fair warning. If he has to leave the park or a friend's house, let him have some time to switch gears: "You can go down the slide two more times, and then we'll leave."
Parenting, February 2002
Karen Miles's last article for Parenting, on nurturing children's math ability, appeared in the September issue.

Contributing editor Pamela Redmond Satran's most recent novel, Suburbanistas (Downtown Press), came out in March 2006.

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answers from New York on


Bi-polar and ADD ?? Is he sleeping okay? does he have a hard time falling asleep? How is he doing in school. How is his concentration does he start something and then go to something else? I am no doctor, but, I do have a nephew (21) who has ADD and what you are describing sounds nothing like what we went thru when he was a younger boy.

This sounds to me like your average 1st grader who is adjusting to 1st grade and a normal kid. My son is 12 and believe me I repeat myself every day; every hour; still to this day - he say's no and then some!!! I should carry a tape recorder with me and just push play over and over again!!

If you really feel strongly that there is a reason for him to be tested - than you should. I had my son's hearing tested!!! believe he could hear fine - After that I pretty much cought on to his little manipulation game! Things changed at that point.

Good Luck
Stayin Home and Lovin It
Mom to Derek

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answers from New York on

Aha, this could be several different things. It could be that he is just a tough little 6 year old boy. It could also be ADD or ADHD or ODD, as Michelle had mentioned or even a learning disability. It's a bit early to diagnose him with bipolar.

My 13 y/o son was (is) the same way. He started at the age of four with violent behavior and defiance. I brought him to a councilor at the age of 5, where he was diagnosed with ADHD. He was placed on Wellbutrin. That only worked for awhile. They then diagnosed him with ODD and switched him to Prozac (which I highly do not reccommend) and we had no responce. It wasn't until a few months ago when we switched psychiatrists that he was diagnosed with the Bipolar 2 in conjunction with the ADD and ODD. He is now on mood stablizers and an ADD medication. Slowly we are seeing a positive change in him. He also sees a councilor 1x a week.

Its a very rough road to travel down, but be strong. You can always request another consultation from a different psychologist. But with anything, pick your battles. Kids like this always seem to want the last word, which can get you into an argument. Say your peace calmly and walk away.

If you need to talk, let me know.

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answers from Providence on

Have you spoken with his teacher, or do they have a school clinician that might help you figure out what is going on with your son. I am not a clinician, but I do believe he would not have bi-polar symptoms at such a young age. It usually starts during their teens in which the symptoms arise. It might be possible that he might have ADD, but that would have to be evaluated by a clinician/pediatrician. I am not sure if this helps you out at all.

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answers from Boston on

first off how long has this been going on? second if you have tried everything to your imagination then i would get a consult with your pediatrician and see if he needs to be tested. he may just be hyper but to have to repeat yourself a million times their could be underlying problem. is he having difficulty at school. (assuming he is in kindergarten or 1st grade.) if he is having difficulty at school maybe tyhat is why he is acting out. also do you fees into his behavior or do you pick your battles? hope to get the answers your looking for. take care kelly.

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answers from New York on

Kids don't necessarily have to have ADD or bi-polar to act like that, that's for sure! My now 18 year old son Tony, I'll be frank, he was a S.O.B. from the time he was about 3 to the time he was 10!!! He almost never listened and gave me a true run for my money. By the end of the day I was borderline suicidal/homicidal I swear!!! He was a major prick. Now, he's the nicest most mellow young adult you could meet...and you would NEVER know what a jerk he was for so long, what trouble he was all the time that I wanted to pull my hair out!!! He's also got a high IQ (he's been tested), does well in school, and has no sign or indication of anything "mentally wrong". People had tried to get me to take him to a shrink when he was little, and one I did take him to wanted me to put him on medications, and I flat out refused to make my son into a zombie! As long as it didn't interfere with his schooling, I"d rather have him just be himself and live and learn, even though it was a big strain on me daily!!!



answers from Lewiston on

I am the mother of an 11 year old with ADHD and Boplar Disorder. You're son sounds a lot like my son. It doesn't hurt anything to talk to your pediatrician about a referal to a mental health professional for an evaluation. I would have an eval done by a child psychiatrist, and not a ped., because the child psych is more up on what is going on.

There are some wonderful resources. I know mostly around Augusta and some in Waterville. I'm not sure what area you are in, but feel free to message me privately if you want.



answers from New York on

Don't just dismiss the question if he has ADD. Get him tested. If it is ADD the earlier you catch this disorder the earlier you can start working on the problems that might come with this. Not all children who are ADD need meds if that is your concern. Two of my three children have ADD, on eis on meds and one is not, it is a choice you make with the doctor and psychologist who does the testing.




answers from New York on

You know, it REALLY irks me that people are quick to say "Your kid has ADD" "Your kid is bi-polar" What's REALLY annoying is that teachers, doctors and professionals are quick to diagnosis a kid with ADD. I wish that they would take the time to really evaluate the kid and not jump to the easiest conclusion. It's easy to say that the kid has ADD or is Bi-polar and put the kid on all types of medication to the point where the kid isn't a kid anymore, they become what I call "robots". That is the easiest way of dealing with a NORMAL kid...personally, I think it's a cop-out and we as parents need to be stronger for our kids. The school systems are using this medication to keep the child under control and they are NOT doing their jobs as a teacher. M., your son is simply being a kid. No kid listens to what he is being told the first time. And Yes, of course, other parents experience what you are experiencing...and if they tell you they aren't then they are lying. Please don't allow people to label your son. It is a phase and he WILL eventually get over it. It also has to do with the way you handle things as a parent. Being that he is your only boy, you may be letting him get away with alot...but as a mother of a 2yr old boy myself, I tend to do the same. Tantrums are just some of what kids do. Yes, there may be kids out there that don't have tantrums alot but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with your child. Every child is different...with different personalities, different views, just different ways of handling things. The worse thing that you can do is compare your child to another child...whether it's a family member or a friend. Telling a kid to stop this or stop that...using the word "No" alot is what we sign up for when we chose to be parents, along with other things, obviously. Now, since I don't know your whole situation and since every parent/child relationship is different, I can't really tell you what will work and what won't work for your son. All I can say is that the way I handle my son works for us. Given that our boys are not in the same age bracket, the same discipline might not work for the other. Your son is in school where my son hasn't started school yet. Does he act up in school as well? It may be something that he does with you only...and I would probably start by asking the teachers what they do that you aren't doing at home. I wish I can help you some more but it's really whatever works for you and your child. Good Luck!



answers from Lewiston on

Hi,my name is J. and my son also had tempertantrums at 6 but they don't grow out of them, he is almost 18 and still does it. Looking back I can see the tantrums where his way of dealing with the stress in our life, my ex-husband was a drinker and he yelled constantly, it became a habit for him to release his stress like that but he only shows it to me. I have learned to ignore him till he is done then ask what he is angry about and then we talk it out. My advice is to examine what could be bothering him and maybe talk to a professional to see how you can teach him to deal with stress ina different way.



answers from Washington DC on

Hi. First of all sorry. People can be so rude about asking inappropriate questions when they have no business doing so. I still get asked if I'm pregnant 2 years later after my second child - not because I'm obese just because I have a bit of weight on my stomach and it doesn't quite "fit" the look of the rest of my body. Well, that's my bit over.

Anyhow, this may sound silly and I've only quickly read the other responses, but have you asked your son when he is calm and things are going ok, what is making him angry with you at certain times. Does he understand why he is angry and can you help hi deal with it. A simple calm chat with him might garner the answer. Then regardless of whether you get the answer reward him with something he likes after the conversation - anything from a hug, playing a game with him, a walk, some food - whatever works for you and makes a little impact with him. If, after your first conversation with him, you feel like you might eventually gets some pointers from him as to what is wrong or what tends to set him off, you might start enjoying continually these chats and he might start chatting with you instead of arguing and having a tantrum. Also, did you son ever have a tantrum at school - you said he is fine there and doing well. If the teachers did experience with a trantrum - how did they deal with it, because whatever they did worked. Unfortunately he is now preferring to do them at home wit you, so their advice might be a huge help for you.

Anyhow, sorry if I've been repetitive, I'm sure it will pass. Good luck.



answers from Springfield on

How is he in school? My son was the same way and he's still the same way well, a little better than last year anyway I heard the same things from family and friends but at school it wasn't a problem so his doctor said he most likely didnt have add or anything like that because he wouldn't be able to control himself at school if he did indeed have add, she said it was probably just immaturity. If you find any good ideas for stopping the tantrums please let me know. (My son is 7 and it started when he was about 5-51/2)



answers from Burlington on

My daughter does the same thing to me and my husband so not sure what to tell you just try to hang in there they are jusy testing their limits. If you get the right advise PLEASE let me know.



answers from Providence on

I have a older son who is 9 and he has been to many of doc's and they don't diagnose bi-polar that young, adhd my son has been diagnosed since 4 belive it or not...i can spot it right out.ive been xactly where u been...get back to me if u wish...D.



answers from Boston on

Hi,I have the same problem with my children having temper tantrums and flipping out when they don't get there own way.My children has adhd and biplor so it is pretty hetic at my house,They take medicine especially my youngest he can get pretty bad ,he has been in the hospital 4 times and also a a-r-t for about a week or so,he takes alot of medicine to calm him down but sometime that don't even work.

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