Thursday 14 December 2017

The Parent Zone: 'My three-year-old isn't talking yet and he's having tantrums'

Temper tantrums are common in children
Temper tantrums are common in children

A three-year-old throwing tantrums and a teenager's unhappiness are this week's problems

Q: My three- year-old son isn't talking at all and is having severe temper tantrums. I have spoken to my friends about this and they say just wait a while, he will talk.I'm worried though. Do you have any advice for me?

You are right in being concerned about your son's language development. At his age, and speaking in general, the typical language usage is as follows:

• Use pronouns I, you, me correctly

• Is using some plurals and past tenses

• Knows at least three prepositions, usually in, on, under

• Knows chief parts of body and should be able to indicate these if not name

• Handles three-word sentences easily

• Has in the neighbourhood of 900-1000 words

• About 90pc of what child says should be intelligible

• Verbs begin to predominate

• Understands most simple questions dealing with his environment and activities

• Relates his experiences so that they can be followed with reason

• Able to reason out such questions as "what must you do when you are sleepy, hungry, cool, or thirsty?"

• Should be able to give his sex, name, age

• Should not be expected to answer all questions even though he understands what is expected

Do not be alarmed if your son has not reached all these milestones as all children differ but I am aware you say he is not speaking at all. This is an indication of a developmental delay that is significant.

It would be helpful for you to consult your paediatrician and seek a referral to a speech and language therapist.

The therapist will assess your son's language development in all areas including expressive language, receptive language and pragmatic language (if necessary).

Following thorough assessment treatment recommendations may be made. Treatment of language delays is usually quite effective and improvement will be noticeable.

Your son's temper tantrums are most probably related to his language delay. If we do not have words to express our frustration or anger we have no recourse except to act them out.

Young children are subject to a lot of frustration. They want what they want when they want it and sometimes can't cope with waiting. Under these circumstances there isn't a lot you can do to change things but a patient thoughtful approach to your son will be helpful.

When he is starting to get into a temper intervene quickly.

Get down to eyelevel, take his hands and make good eye contact.

Give him a warm smile and a hug. Try to distract him with some enjoyable activity or play. Although this will not always work it will go a long way to helping him feel secure and safe.

Remember that every temper tantrum usually has some sort of trigger so the more you can become aware of the triggers the more likely you are to prevent their occurrence.

 I am confident things will improve once your son's language improves.

Q: My 15-year-old daughter seems terribly unhappy. She is tired all the time and does not eat well of late.

She seems to want to stay in her room all the time and has lost interest in the activities she used to enjoy.

I caught her crying in bed last night. What should I do?

Based on your description it seems as though your daughter is getting depressed.

Since this appears to be a change in her behaviour and mood I think you should speak to her. Try and establish a good and open line of communication.

Start by being honest, just tell her that you have noticed she is unhappy and that she is withdrawing.

Tell her you want to help and that you are available to speak with her about whatever is going on in her life.

Tell her that if she doesn't want to speak with you she can talk to another family member. It could be that she would prefer to talk with her father or a favourite aunt or uncle or grandparent.

Giving choices in situations like this can be helpful in allowing the young person to open up to someone and that is the most important thing.

She needs to talk and confide. It is the first step in getting through her difficulties.

Depression in the teenage years is a lot more common than people think.

The lives of our teenagers are full of pressures and demands on all sides. Academic study gets more intense with every year of school.

The demands of social interaction are intense and sometimes confusing.

Many things can disrupt what was once normal functioning. Sometimes it is a relationship problem with a girlfriend or boyfriend. Sometimes it is bullying or social exclusion.

Sometimes it can be a harsh and cruel teacher. Less often it is a family history of depression that is emerging in adolescence.

No matter what the cause, intervention is important and the earlier the better because the outcome is always better if we act quickly.

I don't know what the cause of your daughter's sadness may be but I do know that it is quite treatable and often only requires a few visits with a professional or, in some cases, removing the source of the discomfort.

Teenagers often want help from adults but are quick to reject it when offered. Do not take this personally.

If she won't talk to a family member and things do not change it is best to consult your GP and let her speak with her or him.

You would be surprised how often this helps open the course to proper intervention.

David is a psychologist; send your questions to davidcarey@herald.ie

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