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Nine-Year-Old Still Has Tantrums

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My concern is with my nine year old son. Since his toddler stage, he has been "sensitive" (as the pediatrician put it). When things don't go his way, he tends to cry and have whining outbursts. Now, I don't mean in relation to "do your homework," or "it's bedtime," but in areas such as during a birthday party when he was last to receive a piece of cake, or at a baseball game, where there are 14 team members and he had to sit on the bench for the first two innings.

I have, over the years when he has these outburst, pulled him aside and tried to console him and, at the same time, tried to explain that it's O.K. to have these feelings, but it's not O.K. to act out on them. I have also had good relations with all of his teachers since kindergarten and have been able to explain his "emotions" with them in hopes that if he has an outburst they can understand and help him work through them. (He has been very fortunate to have received very caring and experienced teachers.)

During parent-teacher conferences last month, his teacher informed me that she felt that his "moods" were starting to affect his relationships with his friends and other classmates. I, too, have noticed them getting more frequent.

I just don't know how to handle this anymore. I have been getting tougher with him lately (meaning, not tolerating it!) because I fear that the "harassing" from his peers will become intense if this behavior continues, but I'm not sure if it's the right way to go.

Any advice you can give me will be greatly appreciated.

A: Your son has not yet begun to incorporate the learning that he is not the center of the universe. As he has grown older, this self-centered attitude has begun hurting him more socially. I'm not sure that everyone "excusing" this self-centeredness along the way by understanding his "emotions" has truly helped him become more resilient; it appears it may have fueled and encouraged the behavior.

I would suggest that you seek out the help of a talented child/family therapist. You, not your son, should discuss with her the blueprint for behavioral changes on your part and on the parts of other adults who deal with him (e.g. teachers). Designing a new "dance" will be the first step in introducing a more successful, consistent baseline for him to adapt to. You may also offer him the option of seeing his own therapist. Tell him there are people who can help him be happier and learn ways to keep and hold onto friends. Sound upbeat about it and show him the lead through your change of behavior.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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