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Dr. Olsen
Dr. Olsen, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2336
Experience:  PsyD Psychologist
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My 3 year old grandson throws tantrums fairly regularly but

Customer Question

My 3 year old grandson throws tantrums fairly regularly but the reasons are unclear. One problem is ending his game playing session on the computer. He is gifted in many areas, but was speech delayed for a brief time. He has a 5 year old sister who has always been exceedingly gifted, especially in speech. The tantrums show frustration and anger. Attempts to deal with the situation have inconsistent outcomes. Any suggestions would be appreciated. My daughter has consistently remained calm during the outbursts to no avail. My daughter is a stay at home mom and has loving interaction with both children. This situation alters their lives at home and when out. Father hesitates to take his son on errands, etc., due to the potential of outbursts. Mother is at her wit's end. No danger of abuse (I am a retired social worker who investigated abuse for 15 years.) However, the situation has extreme negative effects on the family and the parents are beginning to blame themselves and think the behavior is their fault--even though no action of theirs or the sister precipitates the tantrums. (except establishing time limits on activities, discipline for misbehavior, etc.) Mother has shown remarkable patience in dealing with situation. Thanks.
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. Olsen replied 5 years ago.
Hi there,
Thank you for writing in JA.
I am sorry to hear about your 3 year-old grandson's situation.
It sounds like he throws tantrums almost every day.
It's common for 3 year-old toddlers to throw tantrums.
His temper tantrums may have to do with anger and frustration about something he wants to express but can't OR attempt to get attention from his parents.

In general, positive reinforcement such as reward and praise may work better for children than punishment.
His parents may continue to communicate rules with him over and over again. Then, they may reward his good behavior (no temper tantrums; managing his anger better) daily. It may take up two months to work until he understand the reward rule. His parents may keep track of his progress in a notebook. Good rewards may be small treats, an extra bedtime story etc. You may also "praise" his good behavior daily when he does not throw temper tantrums or shows minimal displays of anger all day.

His parents may read The book "Mad Isn't Bad: A Child's Book about Anger" by Emily Menendez-Aponte, Mundy Michaelene, R. W. Alley to him at night. It's a good book for him to learn how he (a child) can appropriately express and deal with his anger or being mad.

Please let me know if you have more questions or I have overlooked any. Warm regards,
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
This situation is really multi-dimensional and I forgot to mention that the mother has used positive reinforcement, rewards for good behavior, etc. She has no problems with him expressing anger and understands child behavioral issues pretty well. She also uses a common sense approach to child rearing. The problem is that her son SCREAMS and sometimes is beyond comforting. They cannot identify the cause of this behavior and why their attempts to deal with it have been ineffective. One thing may work on one occasion and not on the next. Mother is very involved with the children and concentrates on being fair, explaining discipline to both children (age appropriate) and allowing consequences for bad behavior. She has also encouraged them to be individuals by giving them choices about food, clothing, etc. Both kids have a savings account for their allowances and are praised for good behavior. She does not show favoritism and is aware of their developmental abilities. They attend church regularly, run errands together, get special treats while out, bake and cook together and play together. She reads books to them daily. Son also has sleeping problems (doesn't want to go to bed) and often wakes up during the night, becoming very difficult to return to bed. The down side is that they have little contact with other children except at church. Father takes only car to work daily and this obviously isolates mother and children. They take walks daily and often walk to nearby water play venue. Mother also very health conscious and children seldom eat "junk" food. She even bakes all their cookies from scratch. I am totally out of ideas about this situation, especially because my daughter is an unbelievable mother (not just my prejudice). The is a REAL problem for the family. No medical problems identified for children except allergies. Mother is hypoglycemic and has allergies. She has physical for son tomorrow and was going to ask doctor about situation. In my experience with family dynamics, etc., I think she has handled the situation calmly and rationally. That's why all are pretty desperate.
Expert:  Dr. Olsen replied 5 years ago.
Hi there,
Thank you for your reply.
I will work on my answer.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
FYI--mother is 31, father 33--married for 7 years. Both children planned.
Expert:  Dr. Olsen replied 5 years ago.
Hi there,
Thank you for your response.
So, his mother has used positive reinforcement to his behavior.
Indeed, she has been patient with his temper tantrums.
She seems to be very involved with him and his sister.
He has a loving and warm home environment.
So, his parents and you are at a loss of what to do with his behavior.
You can't figure the cause of his "screaming" behavior.
I wonder if he may be angry about his father's absence.
He may be missing his father.
He works nights and sleeps during the day.
He seems to have a little involvement with him.
Is that correct?

If so, his father may need to actively involve himself with his son more. He may need to create more time (one-to-one time) with his son every day.
He may need to talk to his son about his temper tantrums every day.

What do you think?

If this is not the case, there is a possibility that your grandson may be a little difficult child or a child with mood issues.
The book "Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child : Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries" by
Robert J. MacKenzie Ed.D. and the book "The Temperament perspective" by Kristal may be helpful to understand his temperament and disciplining strategies.

Please let me know if you have more questions or I have overlooked any. Warm regards,