Throwing Fits


My daughter is 3 years old and has allergies. I have been divorced for about a year and a half and she has been throwing horrible fits for about as long. She hits, bites, pinches, and kicks. I have tried ignoring her and I have tried talking her through them. I am out of ideas and am very frustrated. I also have tried to talk to her dad about being consistent in how we handle them, but he says she doesn't throw fits for him. When I have seen her do it with him, he coddles her and gives her all kinds of attention. I don't know what to do.

Dr. Greene's Answer

All kids go through throwing fits at some time. Those who continue are getting something out of them. It might be attention, coddling, or even just a chance to express rage. Receiving different responses in her two different settings makes it much more complicated. The ideal for her would be to have her meet with a counselor who could then meet with each of the parents to come up with an agreed-upon plan on how to deal with this. Your pediatrician probably knows who is the best in your area. It might be a psychologist, psychiatrist, MSW, or a behavioral pediatrician.

It often helps to give kids a constructive way to throw a tantrum. Explain to her: no hitting, punching, kicking, scratching, or biting. For one of my kids we had a special pillow that he could pound when he was mad or we had him run laps around the house. If she has a plan in advance, it might be easier for her to keep a little control. Also, be sure she knows in advance that when she has one of these, you won’t be able to give her what she is asking for.

Also, check any medications your child might be on. Some allergy medications, such as Benadryl, can make moods unpredictable. It can also decrease their ability to learn during the six hours or more after they take it. If she needs an antihistamine, one that doesn’t enter the brain is better, such as Claritin or Zyrtec. Talk to your pediatrician about these options.

August 23, 2008
Published on: January 25, 2003
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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