Q: Lately, my 10-year-old son has been out of control. If he doesn't get what he wants, he flies off the handle for an hour straight, then eventually calms down. I think he's too old to be having these tantrums, but I don't know what to do. Do you have any advice?

A: First of all, we need to be clear about what's happening with this youngster. While there are some professionals who refer to this kind of behavior as a "temper tantrum," regardless of the child's age, it may not be helpful in this case, as it implies a certain response from the parent and discourages taking a hard look at exactly what's happening.

The first thing that needs to be determined is whether your son is simply losing control of himself or if he's expressing rage, frustration, or even fear. If he's losing control, you'll want to work on ways to avoid, delay, or slow down the process. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, counting, and positive imagery, may be helpful.

If, however, he's displaying intense anger, frustration, or fear, you'll need to help him understand why his emotions are so strong in these situations and find a better way to express them. This may require professional help with anger management, but there are additional questions you may want to explore first.

It sounds like these intense episodes are a relatively recent occurrence. Have there been any recent changes in your family, home, or environment? Is your son having difficulties in school, with academics, or with peer relations? Have there been any increased demands or expectations placed on your child? Exploring these questions through calm discussion may help you determine the source.

In addition, parents always need to consider whether their children's behavior continues because it works for them. Does your son get what he wants as a result of the tantrums? If this is the case, it's important for you to find ways for him to get what he wants through positive and productive means.

Sitting down with your youngster and having a calm, focused talk about the behavior and what you will and will not permit is a good place to start. You might begin with: "We need to talk about these episodes and how to change them. They are not good for you, and they are not good for me." Explain to your child that when he's angry, there are certain behaviors that are acceptable and others that are not. Be as specific as possible about these behaviors.

In addition, you may come up with some ways to positively motivate your son to not "fly off the handle," rewards that are meaningful to him such as a half-hour of television or driving him to a friend's home to play, which, hopefully, over time will become positive reinforcement that helps to discourage these episodes.

Kimberly Gerlach, L.C.S.W., C.T.S., is a psychotherapist and certified trauma specialist in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Center at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. She runs the Temper Tantrum Clinic, which employs a variety of behavior-management techniques in conjunction with child-centered parent guidance. Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, located in Milwaukee, is one of the top-rated children's hospitals in the nation.