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Treats, Tantrums and Tormented Parents Dr Tanya Byron with Matt january 2006 42
Tantrums and
Tormented Parents
Dr Tanya Byron with Matt
january 2006 42


By Vani Saraswathi

W hen was the last time you

smirked at a mother strug-

gling with a child throwing

a tantrum in the middle of the super- market aisle? And then turned around to watch your little angel pulling down canned food from the shelves? When parents can’t handle their kids, what is the solution? One expert child psychologist argues that it is the parents, not the children, who have to change. This tough-talking woman – Dr Tanya Byron – puts her theory to the test with real families and their nightmare offspring. Hidden cameras, CCTV, ob - servational filming and ‘parent cams’ all capture the horror of families with child trouble. The parents are guided through tough, trying moments by the psycholo - gist, who, using earpieces, microphones and monitors, talks them through new ways of dealing with their children. But will it work? Will violent five year-old Matthew, about to be excluded from school for assaulting his dinner lady, be brought back from the brink? And will the mother of the three Barton brothers, who never stop fighting, find a new way to bring her boys into line? Dr Byron, a Consultant Clinical psychologist, is currently filming the second series of Little Angels for BBC Three, which is available on Showtime in the region. She speaks exclusively to Woman Today on child challenges.

Are children becoming more difficult to handle, or is it just a perception. Are they really no different from the parents or grandparents at that age?

This is a complicated question, children are supposed to be naughty and as our job as parents we are there to help them communicate and learn the tools they need for life. These days we live in such a busy world with a lot of stress and some- times we do not set aside the time our children need. Or we are too tired and do not have the energy. When children are behaving we are happy to leave them playing and getting on with it, some-

times forgetting to give them praise. Then when our children misbehave we go in guns blazing. This leads children to believe that to get the attention they require they have to be naughty to get it. Parents these days feel more isolated and there isn’t the family network there used to be, they spend a lot of time on their own with their children as families are not what they used to be.

Are parents losing control over their children? Condoning indiscipline under the pretext of allowing the child to develop and explore?

Often we treat our children as a lot older

than they are, due to television children’s speech is a lot more progressed at earlier ages. Therefore we tend to have big conversations with children under 3 and therefore feel as though they should be less inclined to misbehave as we feel they are more developed than they actually are. Under 3 years olds have limited attention and if they misbehave it’s sometimes not enough to talk to them, in these cases actions speak louder than words. We should have control over the

A still from Little Angels
A still from Little Angels

TV our children watch, in the world we live in children over three are aware of things that are going on but sometimes do not understand and we must try and explain this our children in a way they understand. It seems that some children do not have much of a childhood and we should let them behave like children.

Is the shrinking of extended families responsible for lack of respect for elders?

In some cases as there are more divorces these days and parents may find it hard to put issues to one side. The shrinking of extended families means that there is not as much support and network as there may have been years ago but by being around adults whether family friends or families children will learn to respect elders. However I must say that there is a lot of good parenting and happy children out there. The cases that we look at on TV are the severe cases of families and upbringing as this is what makes television.

What kind of responsibility should the school/teachers take in a child’s upbringing? Does the onus lie exclu- sively on the parent?

Children spend a lot of time at school so

teachers should take some responsibil- ity. Teachers feel frustrated sometimes due to restrictions that have been put in place on the way they manage the children. Often parents may push responsibility on the teachers but this should not be

Having worked in the fields of health psychology (in areas including AIDS/HIV, drug misuse and sexual health) and women’s mental health, Dr Byron specialised in child and adolescent mental health where she treats young children with behav- ioural issues, such as problems with aggression, sleeping or eating. More recently she has worked with adolescents with a variety of emotional and behavioural difficulties including depression, self harm, eating disorders, psychiatric problems and suicidal behaviour. She has also worked with children who have been sexually, physically and emotionally abused; and for six years was the consultant clinical psychologist at an in-patient unit for 12- to 16-year-olds. Tanya teaches a variety of psychological subjects to all health staff and, in particu- lar, runs a Department of Health ‘beacon’ awarded training course in the manage - ment and de-escalation of violence and aggression. She also writes for consumer and professional magazines. Tanya is married with two young children and lives in London.

Filial Fix Treats, Tantrums and Tormented Parents Dr Tanya Byron with Matt january 2006 42 Filial

january 2006



Filial Fix the case, the primary responsibility lies with the parents. The children are the parent’s

the case, the primary responsibility lies with the parents. The children are the parent’s responsi- bility and the upbringing begins in the home.

How do you differentiate between an active child and hyper-active child?

If a child is medically diagnosed as

hyper-active then this is a long assess- ment between a lot of people including

Filial Fix the case, the primary responsibility lies with the parents. The children are the parent’s

january 2006


the parent, teacher and psychologist and a lot of disciplines and assessments must be put in place. If a child is active at home and then in the classroom is able to sit still, learn and concentrate then this is an active child. However if a child in the classroom where rules and bound- aries are set and still cannot focus then this child would have to be investigated further to see what problems the child may have and how they can be helped.

At what age does one start disciplin- ing a child?

From infancy, as they need to form attachments and understand who there primary caregivers are. They need to create bonds through physical reaction. When a parent picks up a child every time they cry this will enable the child to understand how their behaviour can influence a parent and problems can occur. Disciplines should be gently introduced and boundaries set to prepare the toddler for when they are introduced into socials groups. They need to learn basics how to share and communicate at this early age is vital.

What do you do with a child throwing tantrums in public? Do you discipline him/her in public?

It is important for the child to learn at the time, it’s hard sometimes as you feel as though you have the eyes of the world on you. However, if you can ignore this then discipline the child at the time. By not letting your child have a treat or watch their favourite TV show when they return home are good ways of teaching your child they cannot throw tantrums.

How do you tackle the first child, after the birth of the second? Discipline and adjustment issues ...

You need to prepare your child for the arrival of your new baby. They maybe a little cross and feel jealous when the baby arrives, so be gentle if they show resent- ment. Give them huge praise when your child helps with the new baby or shows kindness. This can be a difficult time be patient but also let the child know they cannot get away with things and if any


playing so nicely.” Just tell them all the things they need to hear to get it into their head that they get attention for being lovely. Tantrums happen to all parents. They do not mean you are a bad parent. You can try to prevent them with praise and sticker charts. If that fails you can try to distract the tantrums away. But once started, the best way to stop them is to ignore them. Remember: distract, ignore but do not punish.


playing so nicely.” Just tell them all the things they need to hear to get it



Tanya’s Tips

Children need stimulation and parents are the number one playmate – try to spend some playtime with your children every day. Too much TV can lead chil- dren to become passive recipients, ham - pering social, emotional and education- al development. Children want parental attention – by decreasing the amount of TV they watch children become more aware of the world around them and concentration should improve. Try less TV in the daytime, more walks and trips to the playground. Play games, sing songs, read stories – but above all enjoy your children!

A good way of motivating children and avoiding tantrums is with stickers. At home, a sticker chart is a great way of encouraging good behaviour. Each time your child is good, give them a sticker. Naughty behaviour gets a ‘sad face’. Points mean prizes – enough stickers get them a treat. Mini sticker charts can also work when you’re out. Positive example It’s straightforward but it works – your children will copy you. Swear and they will swear, smack and they will smack. Lead by example.

routine. Routine means bath, pyjamas, a quiet story on the sofa; the bedroom should be a no drink zone, telly off, lights out. A consistent bedtime routine will greatly benefit your children: they get the security of knowing what comes next – that bedtime is for being tucked in and sleeping. If they continue to get out of bed, gently help them back with no fuss, chat or attention – however many times it takes - until the message is clear. They get a gold star and a treat in the morning if they sleep through.

thank you darling

Structure and stimulation

or “Oh look, you’re

Going out needn’t be a nightmare

Try engaging your children in what’s going on and motivate them to be - have well. If they demand toys or start whingeing, distract them and, if neces- sary, ignore them. If you can overcome the red face, ignoring is a very powerful tool but you need nerves of steel! Stay calm, feel in control and you’ll have a nice day.

Try to prevent tantrums with praise. Imagine you’ve got a bucketful of praise in every room of the house with a big ladle. Every time your child does something wonderful, get that ladle and use it to shower praise. “That is lovely, ”

Night-time routine Sleep is essential for healthy child devel- opment so establish a regular bedtime

Filial Fix the case, the primary responsibility lies with the parents. The children are the parent’s

january 2006


Filial Fix the case, the primary responsibility lies with the parents. The children are the parent’s

problems persist a stricter routine may have to be enforced.

Should you allow friends and extended family to discipline or chide your child?

If you trust them and they have good friendships then yes! Family and friends need to know the rules that you have with your children, it’s good to be open and honest. When another adult is look- ing after your child they should be in charge and this will allow the child to have a healthy respect for other adults.

What are the most common com- plaints you receive from parents?

The most common complaints are temper tantrums and this is largely due to the children not wanting to go to bed and not sleeping. This has a huge impact on the whole family. Another common problem is children not eating at meal times, refusing to eat.

How many of the problems parents come to you with are imagined?

If parents feel they have problems with their children, then they do and it’s my job to help them resolve these problems

Filial Fix the case, the primary responsibility lies with the parents. The children are the parent’s