Is it a tantrum or a sign of more?

John Rosemond, nationally syndicated advice columnist, is photographed at the Herald-Leader on July 16, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. (Pablo Alcala/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS)

Q: My 5-year-old continues to throw tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. His father and I are divorced. I have primary custody. He is with his dad every other weekend, basically. My ex has very poor emotional control and I’m concerned that our son may have inherited that from him. When he throws a tantrum, I make him sit in a “tantrum chair” in the living room, something I read about in one of your books. It sometimes takes him nearly an hour to fully calm down. Is there anything else I can do to help him get control of himself or should I just stay the course? I’m thinking 5 years old is too old for tantrums and that there may be more going on with him than I’m aware of.

A: Sixty-plus years ago, it was “unheard of” for a child older than 36 months to still be throwing tantrums; today, it isn’t the norm, but it’s not unusual either. The difference is due to sea changes in child-rearing practices that have taken place since the 1960s, the two most significant of which have been (a) a shift from adult- to child-centeredness in the family and (b) a change in focus from instilling citizenship values to making children happy.

As the result of demonizing (by the media and mental health professional community) and all-but abandoning traditional child-rearing attitudes and practices, behaviors associated with the so-called “terrible 2s” — tantrums, defiance, impulsivity, separation anxiety — continue to occur past toddlerhood and sometimes well past. In other words, I doubt there’s more going on here than meets the eye.

A tendency toward emotionality may be inheritable to some extent, but even if that is the case, emotional control can be taught. Behavioral predispositions are exactly that: predispositions. Unlike physical characteristics, they aren’t written in stone. So, for example, you can’t change a child’s eye color, but a tendency toward shyness can be overcome.

For whatever reasons, your son is having great difficulty accepting what I call the Mick Jagger Principle: You can’t always get what you want. (For those readers who suffer from deficiencies in rock ‘n’ roll knowledge, that is the title of a well-known song by the Rolling Stones, Jagger’s band.) A “tantrum chair” (or some variation upon it) is my standard recommendation concerning ongoing emotional meltdowns in a child your son’s age. The most important element in the equation is that you enforce in keeping with the “Referee’s Rule”: no warnings, no threats, no second chances, no deals.

As soon as a tantrum begins, assign him to the chair. In hesitation, all is not lost, but hesitation when it comes to enforcing rules is almost as counterproductive as not enforcing them at all. This going to be an uphill battle. Stay the course. Your resolve will eventually pay off.

Visit John Rosemond’s website at johnrosemond.com. Readers may send him email at questionsrosemond.com; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Tribune Wire

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.