Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tantrum Episodes

Every child has tantrums at one time or another. Parents are often frustrated about stopping tantrums. some children tantrum because they are not getting what they want. In those cases parents try to wait until the tantrum ends. Giving in, even once, rewards the tantrum so that the child will be likely to use it as way to obtain something again and again and again. This is how parents can end up having 16 year old children who have tantrums. Perhaps it would be helpful to share a few tales of tantrum busting.

A parent tells me that she has stopped her child's tantrums. I asked how she did it, and I was told about a wonderful technique with mirrors. The child has a tantrum, and the parent takes out a mirror and holds it in front of them. It shows the child what they are doing and how awful they look while they are doing it. Using a mirror put a rapid end to any tantrum that her child had. The idea of a reflection of undesirable behavior to stop it is good. People ought to try it.

The 7 or 8 year old girl was on the floor outside of her second grade classroom. Three teachers, two women and a man were standing around her telling her to get up and go to class. The girl just kept on screaming. No amount of talking (by the teachers) worked. One teacher bent over and gave a gentle touch to the girl's shoulder. She kept screaming. The psychologist was walking down the hall.
He stops and says, "I can get her back to class in under a minute. Would you like me to try?" The three teachers look amused. The girl does not know the psychologist. The three teachers agree to let him try.
We all know how cold it is on the bare hallway floors of many schools. The psychologist gets on the floor and lies down facing the girl. The teachers are watching. The girl looks at the psychologist. At that moment, the psychologist puts his thumb in his mouth and sucks on it. No, the psychologist does not make it habit to suck his thumb. The girl does the same. It is very difficult to scream with a thumb in your mouth. The psychologist removes his thumb from his mouth and says, "Mine's chocolate. What's yours?" The girl takes her thumb out of her mouth and quietly says, "Strawberry." The girl and the man (50 year old psychologist) suck their thumbs a few seconds more. The psychologist stops, and says, "Is everything okay?" The girl nods, and says, "Yes." The psychologist asks, "Are you ready to go back to class?" The girl smiles and says that she is. The psychologist says quietly, "You can go to class now." The girl gets up and walks into class. The three teachers are speechless.

Baby tantrums leave parents feeling hopeless when it appears that there is just no way to stop them. The center of a tantrum is the head. Babies scream and cry. Some tantrums include other behaviors that go beyond the head, like flailing arms and kicking feet. Some babies have worse tantrums than others. Most tantrums last for less than thirty minutes. There are serious problems present when a tantrum lasts longer than that. Babies who have spend an extended period of time having their needs neglected tend to have extremely long and intense tantrums. Baby Ben was an example. The police found eight-month old baby Ben in a filty room with a mattress on the floor. There was a half eaten bowl of macaroni and cheese on the mattress. His face was caked with dried macaroni and cheese. There was a bottle of sour, spoiled milk. There was no telling when he last had his diaper changed. His great grandfather took temporary custody. Two and a half year old baby Ben had become a tantrum champion. He could tantrum for eight hours straight for no apparent reason.
Ben was up for adoption. The potential parents knew him, and about his behavior. They wanted him evaluated. The assessment team met with the great-grandfather, Ben, and his social worker.
The tantrum started within the first minute of the team meeting to plan Ben's assessment. The psychologist asked to work with Ben immediately, in front of the team. A kicking and screaming Ben crossed the table into the waiting arms of the psychologist. The psychologist removed one shoe. Ben did not stop. He took off Ben's other shoe. Ben was still screaming. The psychologist eventually went through two complete cycles of removing AND putting on Ben's shoes and socks, one item at a time. Ben did not hear one word from the psychologist. He stopped screaming and raging. The next tantrum began almost fifteen minutes later. Ben, in the arms of the psychologist, had to endure only one cycle of sock and shoe removal because he calmed down so quickly.
The team took Ben to a room to do the assessment. Poor Ben was confronted by a team of three professionals assessing him at the same time. He started to scream. The psychologist picked him up. Ben looked the psychologist directly in the eyes and said, "Feet." Ben did not tantrum again during his visit to our diagnostic center!

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