Annette Nay, PhD

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Temper Tantrums
Annette Nay, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2004

Dear Annette,

My six-year-old grandson gets mad and almost hyperventilates and loses his temper. He will hit or scream and can't control himself. When he is like this he will not listen to his mom or dad. What should they do to help him deal with this behavior?

- Wondering


Dear Wondering,

A six Ėyear-old is old enough to go to school and old enough to know better than to behave in such a way. Case in point: Does he throw these temper tantrums at school? Even though you didnít mention it, Iím guessing that he knows that that behavior will not be tolerated at school. He does do it at home, because he knows from past experience that his behavior gets him what he wants! It is time that this behavior doesnít work at all, ever!

A tantrum does no good if there isnít an audience. Remove the audience! †When one occurs, tell the child in a loud, but not angry voice, that you will return when he gets control of himself, and leave.

If he does hyperventilates and passes out this will not physically hurt him unless he hurts himself falling down after he passes out. It will however usually frighten the child.

When a behavior gets the child what he wants, it becomes a good tool. Children as well as adults hate to loose a good tool. Before the child will relinquish a favored tool, his behavior will become exaggerated for a time. Finally, when he sees that it will not get him what he wants the behavior is extinguished. From time to time he will resurrect the behavior to see if it will work for him again.

The parents need to set the rules about this behavior and the consequence for breaking the rule. The most important thing they can do, is for both to be consistent in following through with the consequence, no matter what. Only following through part of the time is reinforcing the idea that sometimes the child will get away with the behavior and/or he will get what he wants. This reinforces the bad behavior so strongly that the child will continue to try the bad behavior non-stop. It is like gambling where he receives an intermittent reinforcement. The child, just like the adult, will keep on gambling for the intermittent reward.

Time-out has to be a swift, immediate, and consistent action taken by the parents when a tantrum begins. This will have to be done in an room that can be locked to keep him from hitting and/or running out of time-out, as he is severely out of control and only a locked area (not a closet) will contain him. When the tantrum is over then the consequence of token economy can be used as a negative reinforcement to stop the tantrums from reoccurring.

See the following articles:

Find out what the childís favorite things or wants are (not yours). Then use them as a reward or take them away as a negative reinforcement.

Trial and error will show you what will work with the child. The child should know, up front, what the consequence of his behavior will be. This methodology works well up through adolescence, when the consequences mirror the wants of the individual through the years. Ex: Being able to go bike-riding, changes to using the car in later years, if this the personís favorite thing.

Some childrenís tantrums escalate to the point that they destroy things around them and in some cases even damage themselves. If this begins to happen, give the child the time-out in a safe place for him and your things. You may have to cleared-out a room, that can be locked, and made into a padded room, of sorts, until the severely violent tantrums stop.

The tantrums have already escalated into the beginning violent stages. Hopefully stopping the problem now will stop it from escalates into the more violent tantrums, involving the use of weapons, such as knives, the destruction of property, and/or hurting himself.

The point is, he is already violent. The childís behavior has to stop now before he becomes a danger to himself and others, which is the next step in the escalation of the childís behavior. The behavior will end when the parents follow through with the consistent and immediate negative reinforcements that should always follow a tantrum.

If the parents choose not follow-through consistently to end this behavior, it will only get worse and the child will end up in a lock-down mental facility for those individuals who are a danger to themselves and/or others.

Please help the parents see the potential danger to others and the child if they procrastinate taking care of this problem.


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