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Q: My daughter is 8 months old, and is a very happy baby. The only problem I have with her is her temper (which she inherited from me, unfortunately). When she does not get her way, or sometimes when she is playing, she throws a fit. She throws her head and her whole body down. She will roll over and sit up and throw herself again. I'm afraid that she will hurt herself. I also want to let you know that I try to divert her attention to other things or I try to ignore her, although sometimes that is difficult to do. Please give some advice on what to do in this situation. She is not scheduled for another visit to our pediatrician for another month.
A: The problem that you describe is not an uncommon one, and I wouldn't blame yourself too much. Assuming that she is generally a healthy child with no underlying medical problems, it is extremely unlikely that she will do any serious harm to herself from these tantrums. Of course, it is still difficult to tolerate them. You have started on the right path by trying to distract her when something is upsetting her. The other thing to do is to avoid the situations (if possible) that you know tend to provoke the episodes. One of the most important things that you can do is to stay calm. Children are very sensitive to the emotions of those around them and if she sees that you are upset and yelling, it feeds into her tantrum. Talk to her very calmly and in your normal tone of voice. Tell her that you're sorry but she can't have _____. Make sure there are no sharp or heavy objects nearby, and then go about your busines, ignoring the tantrum. This means avoiding eye contact as well as unnecessary conversation, but do not leave her in the room by herself at this age. If you have a playpen available, putting her in it during the tantrum will help make sure she is safe. When the tantrum is finished, pick her up and give her a hug, and go on to another activity, without punishment or a reprimand.
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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.