Monday, January 28, 2013

3 year old and "all hell breaks loose"

I recently started looking into Anger Overload. I have a very lovable 3-year-old but when she gets upset, all hell breaks loose. I’ve had friends and family tell me it is just her age, but once they’ve seen the tantrums they admit that it’s bad. When these melt downs happen they generally last an hour or more and she is impossible to console, she doesn’t want me to touch her but gets more upset if I turn or walk away from her. One of the common triggers is when I’m making her leave somewhere she doesn’t want to leave, so often times we are sitting in the car and I can’t get her into her car seat to deal with it at home. I’ve read some new ways to deal with it on your blog and other resources, but I noticed a lot of the information is focused on older children who are more developed. Do you have some tips on dealing with a younger child in these situations? I’ve thought about calling her pediatrician, but I have a feeling I’m just going to be told that they can’t tell at such an early age. Should I call?Thank you!

Hi, Three year olds can have some severe tantrums when they are frustrated; they often have difficulty containing anger and have difficulty delaying gratification.  What I would recommend is that you try to help your daughter deal with leaving somewhere she likes by changing her expectations in advance.  Let her know where you will be going and that it is for a short time only.  She may not understand what "short" really means, so you should also have something fun to distract her in the car (that she only gets to use once in the car seat), or tell her in advance about an activity she will look forward to doing once you get home (and remind her about it on the way to the car).   In essence you re-arrange the sequence of events so that the visit is one in a series of fun activities. 

Another strategy (if she is not in a full blown tantrum yet) is to distract her, maybe by singing a fun song she likes, or by talking about a favorite cartoon character, or by talking to one of her favorite stuffed animals and asking the animal what she would like to do next.  Maybe you can speak in a make believe voice for the stuffed animal.

If your daughter is already screaming and can't be consoled, I would recommend waiting there (unless you are in a hurry) and maybe sit in the front seat and get busy with something, maybe check your cell phone for messages.  Try not to talk with her while she is screaming but once she has calmed down then talk about a topic she will find interesting (rather than talk about the tantrum).  You use distraction, as any mention of the tantrum is likely to prolong it. 

In the first half of my book I describe these strategies in more detail.  Your daughter will likely develop more self control as she gets older.  The frontal cortex of the brain will grow in the years to come, but in the meantime, try some strategies and see what helps with your daughter.  You may not have success all the time, but if you can reduce the frequency or severity of her outbursts sometimes, it will help you get through the day!  If there is no improvement in the next month, then check with your pediatrician for someone who works with young children who have angry outbursts.  All the best, Dr. David Gottlieb

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