Manipulative Toddler Breath-Holding Earns Them Temper Tantrum Victories

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breasth-holdingWhen I was a teenager making some outlandish request, my mother would tell me “not to hold my breath,” but that’s exactly what these toddlers are doing.  And it’s working to hold their parents hostage.

These children are prone to “breath holding spells” — a true medical condition which they are likely to outgrow by the age of eight.   However, word must have gotten around on the playground because parents and child psychologists warn that breath holding incidents in toddlers could become manipulative.  Once they pick up on the effectiveness of the technique, industrious children will aim to take advantage of their parents’ fear.

Ari Brown, an Austin, Texas, pediatrician and author of the book, “Toddler 411,” encourages parents to not let a toddler’s breath-holding behavior compromise their discipline tactics.   Brown explains the episodes are not harmful in typical children with good health:

“If the child actually holds his breath until he passes out, the body’s natural mechanism to breathe — just like when you are sleeping — kicks in and overrides the child’s forced breath-holding.”

Easier said than done.

Consequences of these episodes include turning white, turning blue, falling/crashing to the floor (causing secondary injuries) and their face being frozen with mouth agape.

When my daughter was just two months old, I experienced this scary phenomenon firsthand.  She was at the doctor getting a routine shot.  She opened her mouth to cry but no sound came out.  Her mouth stayed open wide and her face turned shades of pink then red.  The doctor knew exactly what to do and, in an instant, sound came from my daughter’s mouth:  a big gasp followed by shrill cries.

“If she does that at home,” the doctor warned, “just blow in her mouth.”

Sure enough, it worked then and we’ve used the technique at home a couple of times.  She has yet to realize I’d buy her a mini-motorized Mercedes that we can’t afford if she did it to get her way, so I sympathize with those moms who have to endure the condition.  It’s a scary sight.

(photo: Thomas M Perkins/ Shutterstock)