Q: My grandson is going to be 2 years old next month. Whenever he doesn't get his way, he screams at the top of his lungs and throws a tantrum. My daughter says it's a stage, but I don't remember my kids doing that. What can I do to help?
Jim: Your concern for your grandson is admirable. Although you might not agree with your daughter's assessment that his tantrums are "just a stage," our counselors suggest that it's best to be careful in broaching the subject with her. Your grandson's parents should have the final say in the way their children are reared. Our counselors recommend that unless grandparents suspect negligence or neglect, they should offer advice only if asked; furthermore, grandparents should work at building a relationship in which they can compare notes and share the benefits of their parenting experience.
That said, if your daughter is open, there are some general principles you might share with her. Very young children sometimes need help controlling their emotional reactions. A parent's job is to set definite boundaries for the expression of childish anger and frustration, and to enforce those boundaries with consistent consequences. Time-outs are especially effective with toddlers. Taking a screaming toddler to a neutral location -- perhaps his bedroom -- and leaving him alone for a predetermined period usually does the trick. Our counselors suggest one minute of time-out for each year of a child's age -- in other words, two minutes for a 2-year-old.
Your daughter might also find useful advice in Dr. Kevin Leman's book, "Have a New Kid by Friday" (Revell, 2008). He suggests that the most effective strategy for extinguishing tantrums is to ignore them. Kids often throw tantrums as a way of manipulating their parents. If the parents refuse to be manipulated, the behavior often ceases.
Q: Our son has Asperger's syndrome and is now in high school. His attitude is changing, and he seems to be getting more rude and angry. He's socially awkward, and people don't understand his behavior. How can we help him and, more importantly, help those who befriend him understand how to deal with this kind of behavior?
Leon Wirth, Executive Director of Parenting and Youth: The teen years can be frustrating for any parent, without the added challenges of Asperger's (now classified as a high-functioning autism spectrum disorder). Our hearts go out to you and your son.
First, we're assuming your son is receiving ongoing psychological care. That is critical. Talk to your son's therapist about the changes in his behavior. It's possible that some of the problem can be minimized through medication, diet, supplements and other therapies. But that determination can be made only by a qualified professional.
When it comes to helping other people understand, direct them to a website or other information related to Asperger's. Don't embarrass your son or "make an example" of him. Rather, discreetly approach his teachers and the parents of his friends in an effort to educate them. Here are some resources:
-- The Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support (OASIS) center (www.aspergersyndrome.org)
-- The National Dissemination Center for Children With Disabilities (nichcy.org)
-- The Autism Society (www.autism-society.org)
-- Autism Speaks (www.autismspeaks.org)
-- "Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments: Practical Solutions for Tantrums, Rage and Meltdowns," by Brenda Smith Myles and Jack Southwick.
-- "Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum: A Parent's Guide to the Cognitive, Social, Physical and Transition Needs of Teenagers With Autism Spectrum Disorders," by Chantal Sicile-Kira.
Finally, don't hesitate to call our counseling team here at Focus for a free consultation. They can also provide a referral to a qualified counselor in your area. May God bless you and your son!
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.