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Ask a Health Expert

My toddler's tantrums are wearing me down Add to ...

The question

My three-year old has terrible tantrums in public to the point that I give her what she wants to settle her down. I know this is the wrong strategy but she is truly out of control when she does not get her way. What can I do?

The answer

This is a typical age for tantrums. Some psychologists call it the "terrible twos'" which continue beyond age two.

Keeping a tantrum diary may be helpful in order to get to the root cause. Do these events occur more often when the child is bored, tired, sick, hungry, jealous of a sibling or over stimulated?

Many children know which buttons to push in order to get their own way and to upset parents. It is important to stay calm and not take temper tantrums personally.

Tantrums should have consequences which must be enforced consistently. When a child refuses to put toys away, then you can tell her that if she does not do that, you will put the toys away and she will not be able to play with it again for the next little while.

Make sure what you withhold is of value to the child. It helps to have consequences immediately. Don't say that you will not let her watch TV tonight when she misbehaves in the morning

It is important to stay calm when the child throws a tantrum and not to yell or use empty threats.

Time out works well if used correctly. The duration is one minute per year of her age. It should be in a special spot, such as in a time out chair, located in an uninteresting place (away from the TV, and not in a bathroom where there are chemicals or objects the child may get into when left alone)

Don't have a conversation with the child, arguing over issues; avoid eye contact by standing behind the child; don't give in or be manipulated---be firm and friendly in a calm and respectful manner; if the child does not obey, stop the timer and start over again.

For additional information see www.healthychildren.org

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at pediatrician@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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