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The Family Project: Coping with toddler temper tantrums

Q. My two-and-one-half-year-old son has begun to have extreme tantrums when I go to work. My husband, who now works from home, is trying to deal with this behavior. My son will hysterically cry for me for up to one hour. When I ask him why he does this, he says he only wants to be with me. Are there practical tactics we can take to help him manage these tantrums?

The first thing the panel addressed was a number of questions, including:

Why the boy reacts the way he does when mother leaves to go to work.

When do the tantrums begin, right after the mother leaves or later in the day?

Does the toddler perceive that something negative is happening in the family because the mother keeps leaving home without him and the father?

Panelist Pam Wallace provided one possible explanation: “My take is that the son is an only child, and for much of his life the mother has stayed at home. But now she has to leave for her job and the boy doesn’t understand that. With the father working at home, the boy also must get bored.”

“The crying is normal,” said panelist Chad Stefanyak, adding, “To some extent the parents should ignore the tantrums. But it is hard to listen to a child crying. However, paying too much attention to the behavior may just reinforce it.”

Talking to the boy more about what everyone, including himself, will be doing during the day was suggested by panelist Erin Stalsitz as a way to get the boy more familiar with the daily routine, and reinforce that mother will come home later.

“The parents can also prepare the boy by telling him that mother will be leaving in 15 minutes and this is where she is going and what she will be doing,” Stalsitz said, adding that the mother can give her son something to do to finish before she gets home.

When it was suggested that the boy be offered a reward for not having a tantrum and crying when mother is gone, Wallace was quick to comment, “No bribes.

“Instead,” Wallace recommended that the father should make an extra effort to spend more time and do fun things with the child, even when the mother is there.

This week’s panel: Pam Wallace, program coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, school counselor, and Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh Children & Youth.

Have a question? Email: projectchild@projectchildlv.org

The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.

The Times News, Inc., and affiliates (Lehigh Valley Press) do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the columnist and column do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Lehigh Valley Press. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health-care provider, with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.