Bring Out the Best in Your Child

Best Child, p.2

Find ways of managing your anger. Losing your temper will make you feel bad and send the wrong message. It's fine if an 8-year-old -- "who's old enough to know better" -- sees that her behavior has made you cross, but it's key that you stay in charge of your anger. Kids take it for granted that anything their parents do is okay. So if you yell, throw things, or grab your child, you're teaching her all the wrong ways to behave. Similarly, a powerful argument against spanking is that it's always a lesson in bad behavior.

A lot of anger management is about avoidance. Babyproofing the rooms your child uses will make his explorations less irritating and reduce the strain of watching his every movement. In addition, distraction works very well with toddlers. Don't let anyone tell you that "walking around trouble" equals spoiling. Direct clashes teach a 1- to 3-year-old nothing and tend to bring you down to his level. Stay adult and take advantage of the fact that you're cleverer than your child. You can almost always find a diversion or distraction if you try.

With a baby or toddler, you can also use your superior size and strength to get your way with good humor. A child who won't walk with you or come in from the backyard can be carried "for a treat" and tickled. Even a young child who hits you or a playmate can be safely held while she's told no.

With a preschooler or older child who is getting on your nerves, escape -- an adult version of time-out -- is the secret. Stop trying to get the dishwasher cleared or the toys picked up and calmly remove yourself from the situation at hand for five minutes of peace and self-indulgence. You could gaze out the window, water your houseplants, put on some makeup, or check your e-mail. It doesn't matter what you do as long as it enables you to rejoin your child in a "let's start again" frame of mind.

Finally, don't forget diversions for yourself too. Try to build something that's fun for you -- even if it's only coffee with a friend -- into every single day. Keep in mind that it's unbroken stretches of time without adult contact that can feel depressing.

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