Sunday 25 March 2018

David Coleman: Tantrums are sucking happiness out of our family home

Our little boy, who has just turned three, has been very bad tempered since he was born. He is very difficult to please and is, at times, impossible!

He cries hysterically for long periods of time, over what we might think is the smallest trigger. He becomes inconsolable and seems to be really sensitive to any sudden change.

This mood can vary from day to day, and some days he is a perfect smiling happy little boy, and the same triggers will not bother him.

I realise he is at an age where he will be prone to meltdowns, he is the 'middle child', with a sister who is four-and-a-half, and a baby sister who is three months.

He finds it very difficult to recover from his crying, and may continue to moan for long periods. This has a knock-on effect on the happiness in the house, as it becomes very stressful trying to appease him without allowing him to get his own way all the time.

Sometimes it seems like one long battle, and I worry that his crying and bad moods affects his older sister, and ultimately himself in the longer term.

I'm wondering if maybe child therapy is appropriate?

Your son is very young to be considering psychological therapy for him. At his age the only kind of therapy that you might consider is play therapy.

However, I am not sure that this is needed as yet. Generally therapy for very young children is only considered if they are known to have had some kind of traumatic experience that they are struggling to make sense of and that is affecting their behaviour.

But, you and your husband might benefit from some professional support and advice in terms of your relationship with your son.

Particularly if you find that you are quick to anger when he cries or if you feel entirely helpless and at a loss to know how to respond to him. Many babies who have something like colic in early infancy will have prolonged periods of crying, which is distressing for them and for their parents.

Some research shows that such prolonged periods of crying can have a longer-term impact on children such that they are more susceptible to stress. It is as if excessive crying leads to an oversensitive stress system in these children.

This can mean that they subsequently really struggle to regulate their own feelings. It sounds like this may have happened for your son.

Just as importantly, though, excessive infant crying can have a huge impact on a parent-child relationship. Generally, babies' cries elicit soothing and tenderness from parents. But at times crying can also induce helplessness and even rage in parents who just don't know how else to respond to their babies.

This can later develop into a very similar situation to the one that you describe where parents do indeed feel like life is one long battle with their children.

You may want to develop your own communication skills to respond to him more effectively.

You might also want support or advice to help you to notice and regulate your own feelings with a view to teaching him how to regulate his better. In addition, I do think that it might be worth your while doing some medical and other testing with him.

Have you checked his hearing? Sometimes children who are fractious, frustrated and distressed over long periods of time can often be struggling with hearing difficulties.

Hearing problems can have an impact on how they understand their world and how they interact and make themselves and their needs known to the world.

It might also be worth checking out if he has any ongoing food intolerances as, again, chronic pain associated with any kind of gastrointestinal irritation can be very hard for small children to describe other than by being cranky, irritable or frequently upset.

It is hard to live with children who cry for prolonged periods of time and I can only imagine that life continues to be stressful with the addition of your third child.

So do mind yourselves and make sure you get some emotional nourishment too, so that you can best mind your son.

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