Stopping Temper Tantrums Before They Start

Scream Savers, p.3

Patience doesn't come easy, but that's what parents of young children need. A recent study by Murray Strauss, Ph.D., a professor of sociology and codirector of the University of New Hampshire Family Research Laboratory in Durham, found that by the time children are 5, fully 98% of parents have used some form of emotional aggression, including yelling, threatening, and name-calling. "When disciplining, it's important to focus on behavior and not emotionally attack your child," says Dr. Strauss. "People say, 'That's unrealistic.' But it's not unrealistic to refrain from yelling at coworkers. We have to treat our children at least as well as we treat our colleagues."

In the heat of the moment, it may help to remember that tantrums are not a sign of bad parenting; they're an essential developmental stage. "Tantrums help kids learn to deal with their negative emotions," says Linda Rubinowitz, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and director of the master's program in marital and family therapy at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. "Sometimes children get so overwhelmed with their new independence that they get overstimulated and melt down."

While there's no one right way to handle a tantrum, most experts agree on what doesn't work. At the top of the "don't" list are yelling and hitting, but short-term solutions such as bribing, begging, and giving in are also poor strategies. "If you give in, you are rewarding the tantrum and ensuring that it will happen again and again," says Dr. Katz. On the other hand, when kids know that "no" means "no" and when parents react calmly and consistently when their kids begin to act out, everyone feels happier and more in control.

The bottom line: Anticipating how an environment may affect your child and responding appropriately are key.

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