How to Keep Your Cool

Children have a knack for frustrating their parents. We've got tips on how to control your reactions to temper tantrums and spilled milk.
Jenny Risher

Introduction

If you think discipline is easier said than done, you're not alone. Kids have a knack for doing the things that most annoy us: calling us names, breaking our things, copying our own worst habits. And even their most trivial deeds -- like spilling milk, drawing on the wall, repeating certain words -- can trigger deep feelings of anger and resentment. It's often easier to strike back -- verbally or physically-than to remain cool. But that kind of reaction never helps. To discipline a young child effectively, you need to discipline yourself, too:

  • Get in touch with your feelings. Identify the negative behavior that frustrates you most, and figure out why it does. Then measure your anger against the actual offense: Is your response realistic? If so, what can you do to change your child's behavior? If not, then what can you do to change your own reactions?
  • Look for warning signs. Are you using anger toward your child to blow off steam from other frustrations in your life (work, money troubles, illness), to frighten your child into behaving, to avoid resolving disagreements, or as a substitute for affection?

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  • Get help. If any of the above warning signs apply and you find yourself exploding at minor infractions or frequently resorting to bking, consult your spouse, call a friend, join a parenting support group, or see a therapist.
  • Take time out. When you feel as if you're about to boil over, retreat to a quiet place and try to cool down before you do or say something you might regret later.
  • Learn to laugh. The irritations of today -- a mischievous child who grabs your underpants to wear as a hat-often provide the funniest family stories for tomorrow.
  • Act like an adult. Don't sink to your child's level. Children do not anticipate the consequences of their actions, nor do they have as much self-control as you do.
  • Attend to your own needs. It's easier to lose control when you're overtired. Relax and get plenty of exercise and rest.
  • Forgive yourself. We all have moments when we nag a little too much or let out our frustrations in an unwise way. As long as such behavior is not the norm, relax and concentrate on the future.
Child

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