Saturday, February 5, 2011

What do I do when my child throws a fit?

Ms. Dorothy
I have a 4 year old who has recently become very easily agitated over little things and screams like he is on fire if you try to hold him or calm him down. When he becomes agitated he is inconsolable and has become violent, he throws, hits, scratches and bites. This is not just towards me but his older and younger brothers. I have tried removing him from the situation without giving in, especially if it is over something little like his brothers playing with a toy he wants that was in another room or over food to eat for dinner. I am at a loss for what to do please help!
-Concerned Mother

Angry and frustrated children often feel they have no control. He wants what we all want; to feel that he belongs, and right now he is finding his place through these fits.

He is less interested in the thing he says he wants than he is in your reaction, and if the problem is escalating to actually hurting his siblings, he needs something done right now.

Instead of saying "No," try giving him some choices. You set the limits, so you have the real control in the situation, but he will see that he has some power to make decisions if you let him have choices.  

Offer this cereal or that for breakfast, or a choice between hot and cold cereal.  He has the power to choose, and to choose which fruit goes on his cereal. These are real decisions and involve him in the meal making, and give him a true sense of belonging.

If you ask "what do you want" he will not understand why cake is not a valid choice and will have a fit when you say "No."  

Try being clear about times for things. Rather than saying "No. We are going to eat lunch before we go to the park"  to his request, try "Yes. We will go to the park. And now it is time to eat lunch." The change from focusing on what he can't do right now to what he can do, and when, may help to sort out some of his frustration.

It is important to hold your own temper and give him the attention he craves when the situation is not out of hand. Try to anticipate when he is likely to have a fit and set up an opportunity for different choices before things are out of hand.

There are some great ideas about how to make these changes and keep your cool in the book Positive Discipline.  Check out the website too for some immediate pointers.

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