El manejo de las pataletas: estrategias, evidencias y malas prácticas

Por Felipe Lecannelier Acevedo
Psicólogo Clínico
Director del Centro de Estudios Evolutivos e Intervención en el Niño (CEEIN), Universidad del Desarrollo


Las pataletas (y la forma de manejarlas) suelen ser una de las principales quejas que los padres reportan respecto de la conducta de sus hijos/as, especialmente durante los primeros seis años de vida. En general, una pataleta es entendida como una reacción descontrolada y no planificada de rabia y frustración que se expresa a través de una serie de conductas que pueden ir desde llorar, gritar, tirarse al suelo, hasta pegar, morder, y golpear/se. Evidentemente, mientras más descontrolada y extrema es la reacción del niño/a, más indicadora es de algún tipo de dificultad temperamental, emocional, familiar, genética, y/o contextual.

Todos los seres humanos (niños y adultos) suelen hacer pataletas, lo que varía es la intensidad, duración y tipo de conducta que se realiza para expresar la rabia y frustración. Estudios específicos sobre la duración e intensidad de la pataleta han mostrado que ésta conducta tiene su pick de intensidad entre los 1 y 4 años, en donde alrededor del 80% de los niños suelen acudir a este tipo de reacciones en momentos de stress, rabia y frustración. A pesar de que muchas veces se atribuye a la pataleta una intención de manipulación por parte del niño/a, esta reacción suele expresar una necesidad no cumplida (sea una necesidad física, emocional, social, etc.). Es decir, los niños hacen pataletas como una forma de expresar su rabia y stress producto de no haber obtenido lo que desean conseguir y no necesariamente como intentos de manipulación hacia los padres.

¿Cómo se manejan las pataletas?

Históricamente, el consejo práctico que los profesionales han dado se relaciona a ignorar la pataleta, no hacer caso a las peticiones del niño/a, y/o dejarlo en un lugar alejado hasta que se calme (por ejemplo, cuando se envía al niño a su habitación). Es decir, lo que se conoce como la técnica del Time-Out (Tiempo-Fuera). Sin embargo, últimos estudios provenientes de las investigaciones sobre la calidad del apego entre padres e hijos y del desarrollo de habilidades socio-emocionales en los infantes (lo que se conoce como Aprendizaje Socio-emocional) han demostrado que este tipo de técnicas provoca una serie de efectos negativos a corto y largo plazo, tanto en los niños, como en la relación con los padres. En primer lugar, se ha demostrado que cuando se les hace Tiempo-Fuera (no solo en el contexto de la crianza, sino también en la educación preescolar y escolar) ellos reportan sentirse con más rabia, más frustración e ignorados por sus padres (o profesores). Algunos mencionan sentirse tristes y rechazados y no confiar en la disponibilidad y ayuda del adulto cuando se sienten mal.

En segundo lugar, los niños/as que son sometidos a esta técnica como práctica disciplinaria cotidiana para manejar eventos estresantes, evidencian a largo plazo mayores índices de agresividad, mala conducta, desorden, y oposicionismo, ya no solo con sus padres sino con otros adultos. Es decir, que en este sentido, el Tiempo-Fuera puede parecer que tiene efectos positivos a corto plazo (ya que el niño parece calmarse) pero a largo plazo genera un clima conflictivo y hostil entre el niño y sus padres. Por último, los estudios sobre prácticas positivas de crianza han mostrado que la técnica del Tiempo-Fuera NO enseña nada positivo al niño/a sobre su propia conducta y reacciones y la de los otros (es decir, no enseña nada sobre valores e inteligencia emocional). Más bien lo que hace es imponer una disciplina sobre la base de enseñar un poder autoritario que se debe acatar, pero sin que el niño pueda comprender el qué, cómo y porqué de su conducta descontrolada. Más aún, esta técnica suele dar una información emocional contradictoria al niño, donde se le impone que trate de calmarse por sí mismo y en soledad, cuando la pataleta es justamente una expresión de que él no tiene la habilidad para hacer eso.

¿Cuál sería entonces un manejo apropiado de las pataletas?

Más que Tiempo-Fuera, el mejor manejo sería un Tiempo-Adentro (Time-In). El Tiempo-Adentro implica que, más que alejarse del niño y dejarlo solo, hay que quedarse con él/ella utilizando una serie de estrategias para que se calme. Esta estrategia tiene el fin último de comunicar al niño/a que los padres son seres protectores y contenedores en momentos difíciles (aspecto vital en toda estrategia sana de crianza). Más específicamente, algunas acciones concretas a realizar son:

1) Nunca descontrolarse en esos momentos (no gritarle, pegarle, decir malas palabras, o inferir malas intenciones).

2) Ponerse a la altura visual del niño/a: esto permite que él sienta menos estrés y poder autoritario de parte de los padres y pueda calmarse fácilmente.

3) Siempre trate de poner en palabras o comentar en frases breves y simples lo que está ocurriendo afectivamente en el niño (por ejemplo, “yo sé que te da rabia porque no quieres acostarte, pero tienes que dormirte porque ya es tarde”). Esto ayuda a que el niño aprenda en futuras ocasiones a comprender y verbalizar estas reacciones de descontrol.

4) Desviar la atención con algo agradable para el infante: es decir, mostrarle una alternativa que le guste (por ejemplo, ofrecer leer un cuento en vez de comer un helado a las 9 de la noche). Esto no solo calma al niño, sino que le enseña formas para calmarse en el futuro.

5) No tratar de enseñar temas de disciplina en el momento de la pataleta, ya que cuando uno se encuentra en estados afectivos negativos no comprende razones ni consecuencias (por ejemplo, “si te portas mal, no podrás salir mañana”), sino mas bien esperar a que esté más calmado y mostrarle que su conducta no es apropiada (obviamente, sin descalificarlo, culparlo, y/o ridiculizarlo).

En el fondo, el Tiempo-Adentro (a diferencia del Tiempo-Afuera) lo que hace es tratar de contener y enseñar al niño/a sobre su reacción, más que provocarle mas malestar y establecer una autoridad basada en el poder innecesario con el/ella.

De mi experiencia, existen padres que asumen muy bien el Tiempo-Adentro ya que se dan cuenta que las otras estrategias suelen ser muy estresantes para los niños/as. Pero también existen padres que consideran que este tipo de crianza les quita poder y autoridad (como que la crianza con los hijos se basara en una relación asimétrica de acatamiento del poder), y otros padres consideran que ese tipo de estrategias no son muy ideales ya que toman demasiado tiempo y paciencia (pero los niños no tienen la culpa que sus padres no tengan tiempo).

En conclusión, cualquier estrategia de crianza que provoque más estrés y malestar en el niño/a es una estrategia que va a tener efectos negativos a largo plazo. En el caso de las pataletas, un consejo que se puede dar a los padres, madres y adultos, es que piensen durante un momento cómo se sentirían si tratarán de expresarle a alguien que se sienten enojados, frustrados, tristes y esa otra persona NO los tomara en cuenta y los obligara a aguantar solos esa reacción emocional.

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