Q: Good day Dr. Ketch. I have a 10-month-old grandson who is living with me…how do Ideal with his behavior he gets angry when he wants something he can’t have. He pinchesscratches and hits in the face. Screams at the top of his voice when he wantshis way, doesn’t want to go to bed at night, fights off sleep as much as hecan. He started walking at 9 months so he is very active. He puts everythingand anything in his mouth. He has no teeth yet. How do we get him to listen andto get him to calm down? Thank you.
A: Dear grandma, thanks for writing in. Thanks especially for your labour of love taking in your grandson to raise. May God reward you – not just in heaven but in this lifetime, Amen!
Now to the young man in question J
What he is doing is throwing a temper tantrum. Why does he do that? It’s his way of expressing frustration with the challenge of the moment which could be not finding the right words to express a need/desire, not being able to figure out how to do something, or just plain old tiredness and hunger lowering the threshold for frustration and subsequent anger/temper tantrums. It may be jealousy of another child in the family or even in this case, feeling insecure and not really understanding why mum had to bring him to grandma.
While you may not be able to prevent tantrums (remember the causes), you can reduce the frequency and encourage better behavior.
When my children were younger, they knew that I had no time for temper tantrums…actually tantrums of any kind. I had way too much on my plate 😀 If one came to me screaming about what had happened, wherever, I would nicely tell him/her to get a hold of him/herself, put their feelings/anger into words and calmly explain what had happened (I will nicely exclude other tested and trusted means I also employed :D). As they grew older, this worked more and more because they learnt to make arguments for why they had to have something or why some other sibling behavior was robbing them of whatever right they were sure they had at the moment 😀 Today, they are all proficient speakers winning debate and public speaking awards nationally and globally. #proudmama 😀 But I digress…
Key tips for encouraging better behavior:
At 10 months, it may be difficult to explain the decisions that led to him being with grandma, but you could try distracting him for the moment
Be consistent – establish a routine so that he understands what to expect and stick to it so that he knows to a large extent, what to expect. As the bible says, ‘let your yea be your yea and your nay be your nay’. Don’t give in and agree to something you had previously refused, because I’m sure you had good reasons for refusing in the first instance. If your child knows that a tantrum gets them the stuff they want, even if it’s bad for them, they have every incentive to continue this ‘bad’ behavior
Try holding him firmly, if you can, until the episode passes. Engulf him in a huge bear hug until he settles down
As he gets older….
Encourage the use of words – As soon as he is able to start expressing himself, please encourage him to verbalize. Let him explain what he needs and why he is angry. You may yet make a champion speaker out of him! 😀
Give him options – It’s also a great idea to make him feel in control sometimes by offering options from a variety of things eg rice or pasta; carrots or green peas, red or blue shirt etc
If tantrums occur during shopping, you could ignore him or have him go to a timeout spot any spot in the shop will do where you ask him to sit or stand and not move away from there.
For the pinching, scratching and hitting, here are ways to make him understand this is unacceptable. A couple will be more useful when he is older:
Don’t hit back, please! 😀 A 10-month-old doesn’t quite understand that he’s hurting you and if you hit back, you are saying that this behavior is okay
Reinforce your love for them by talking to them and no matter how upset you are, be sure to communicate that you love them, just not their behavior.
Praise them when they do well. This will help reinforce the right behaviour
As they grow older, have a timeout spot where you can send them for bad behviour or send them to their room. I know in Nigeria, we generally think this is an oyibo thing, but I did it and it was quite effective. Don’t over-use this though as it then loses its usefulness. Make sure it’s also not for too long. A good rule of thumb is one minute for every year of life – so a 2 year old gets 2 minutes of timeout. Your 10-month old is too young for that right now J
Encourage them to find ways to utilize all that energy. Sporting activities would be great!
Typically, by three and a half years of age, the tantrums should be over and perhaps even earlier if you were consistent with the rules we gave above.
It’s also normal for children to put stuff into their mouths. It’s part of discovering this new interesting world they have been put in. So, his caregiver has to be vigilant and try to keep everywhere, including toys clean.
Hang in there, grandma! Seek help from his mum and/or his doctor if you’re still worried.
Hugs coming your way!