Assess the Situation
Take a few seconds to focus on what has actually happened. Dr. Rosenquest recalls the time her son, then 2, drew with a purple marker in the living room. "The couch and the wall were ruined, and I was furious. My son, on the other hand, seemed stunned and heartbroken by my reaction. If I had waited a moment, I would have discovered that he was imitating Harold from the children's book Harold and the Purple Crayon. From his point of view, it was a great creative endeavor." Knowing your child's intentions doesn't rescue the couch, of course, but it does put his behavior in a completely different light.
This is a Zen moment. To achieve it, you must separate the incident from all others like it in the past as well as those that might happen in the future. And when you look at the situation in the here and now, as a single event rather than a repeated offense, it's often not as serious an infraction as you originally thought.
This is also the moment to figure out where the behavior is coming from. "A 3-year-old who's having a tantrum may be hungry," Kurcinka says. "An 8-year-old who's a bear at breakfast may not be getting enough sleep." In either case, you have to reassess your role.
"Ask yourself whether there's something you need to do that will help prevent this behavior in the future, such as keeping off-limits items in a less accessible place or changing family routines," Dr. Wolf says. In other words, don't say, "How many times have I told you . . . ?" Even if you think you've told your child something 100 times (which you haven't), it doesn't really matter. You need to tell her again and again, and yet again.