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Does our move explain my son’s tantrums?
Q: When my nearly 4-year-old son doesn’t get his way, he cries, screams, says “I don’t love you” and has a bad attitude. Time-outs and confiscating toys don’t work. We just had a baby and fear this will affect her behavior growing up. I believe he spends too much time playing video games and watching TV. We had to move to a new house—perhaps that explains his behavior. What should we do?
A: I don’t believe your son behaves this way because of TV or video games. I don’t believe he gives you a hard time because he has a bad attitude. I don’t believe he’s being difficult because you moved. I think the problem is that your child is at an age when he needs to learn to cope with frustration and needs to learn that parents are authority figures.

This is also the age when kids normally push their parents to see how much they can get away with. Their goal is to turn a parent’s “No” into a “Yes.” So you have to focus on how you discipline your son.

Here’s a list of basics parents need to accomplish to be effective disciplinarians.

Nurture a loving relationship with their child. This is the foundation for learning how to listen and cope with frustration. Parents should not only verbally express their love but show it with hugs and kisses and fun times.

Have a set of rules and routines for morning, bedtime, meals and for family time outside the house.

Demonstrate that they mean what they say. In other words, “No” means “No”—not “Maybe” or “We’ll see.” And it definitely doesn’t turn into a “Yes” the child has a temper tantrum. Parents need to be consistent. Giving in after a “No” only inspires a child to misbehave to get his way.

Convince their child that they’re in charge. The child is not in charge. Hitting a parent is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Stay in charge of their child by staying in charge of their feelings. This means parents are not to yell, scream and have their own temper tantrum when their child misbehaves. They need to be calm and strong, showing their child that they’re not going to be rattled or intimidated by bratty behavior.

You also need to educate yourselves on how to be effective disciplinarians. Many parents think they’re born with this information but it has to be learned. In other words, parents need to learn how to train their children to listen, to be civil and to respect them. You can learn this by reading parenting books and or by attending a parenting class.

Third, I think you need to take immediate action to discourage your son from thinking that temper tantrums are going to pay off. So, the next time he puts on this kind of show simply, ignore his statement that he doesn’t love you and tell him he has two chances to listen before going into a time out. Follow this explanation by holding up one finger and saying, “That is one!” Wait five seconds and hold up two fingers, saying “That is two.” Wait five seconds. If you son hasn’t stopped misbehaving, hold up three fingers and say “That is three—you’re in time-out!”

At this point, lead or carry him into the time-out room. If he comes out, hold the door shut. Avoid conversation or discussion—just tell him that you’ll let him out once he’s quiet. The first few time-outs will be the most difficult, by the way. After the time-out is over, expect your son to listen. If he doesn’t and has a tantrum, give him two chances to listen followed by another time-out if he refuses. All this is far better than spanking a child or yelling at him. The message you’re communicating is that you’re in charge and you expect him to listen. Of course, the time-out room should be a safe place where he can’t hurt himself.

All this will also benefit your daughter who will, in time, have to learn how to cope with frustration just as her brother did.

Kenneth N. Condrell Ph.D Child Psychologist