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Taming Temper Tantrums

Taming Temper Tantrums

Parents expect temper tantrums from 2-year-olds, but angry outbursts don't necessarily stop after the toddler years. Older kids sometimes have trouble handling anger and frustration, too. Some kids only lose their cool on occasion. But others seem to have a harder time when things don't go their way. Kids who tend to have strong reactions by nature will need more help from parents to manage their tempers. Controlling outbursts can be difficult for kids - and helping them learn to do so is a tough job for the parents who love them. Try to be patient and positive, and know that these skills take time to develop and that just about every child can improve with the right coaching.

A Parent's Role

Managing kids can be a challenge. Some days keeping peace while keeping your cool seems impossible. But whether you're reacting to an occasional temper flare-up or a pattern of outbursts, managing your own anger when things get heated will make it easier to teach kids to do the same. To help tame a temper, try to be your child's ally - you're both rooting for your child to triumph over the temper that keeps leading to trouble. While your own patience may be frayed by angry outbursts, opposition, defiance, arguing, and talking back, it's during these episodes that you need your patience most. Of course you feel angry, but what counts is how you handle that.

Reacting to kids' meltdowns with yelling and outbursts of your own will only teach them to do the same (and actually is associated with an increase in children's negative behaviors). But keeping your cool and calmly working through a frustrating situation lets you show - and teach - appropriate ways to handle anger and frustration. Let's say you hear your kids fighting over a toy in the other room. You have ignored it, hoping that they would work it out themselves. But the arguing turns into screaming and soon you hear doors slamming, the thump of hitting, and crying. You decide to get involved before someone gets really hurt. By the time you arrive at the scene of the fight, you may be at the end of your own rope. After all, the sound of screaming is upsetting, and you may be frustrated that your kids aren't sharing or trying to get along. (And you know that this toy they're fighting over is going to be lost, broken, or ignored before long anyway!)

So what's the best way for you to react? With your own self-control intact, teaching by example is your most powerful tool. Speak calmly, clearly, and firmly - not with anger, blame, harsh criticisms, threats, or putdowns. Of course, that's easier said than done. But remember that you're trying to teach your kids how to handle anger. If you yell or threaten, you'll model and ingrain the exact kinds of behavior you want to discourage. Your kids will see that you're so angry and unable to control your own temper that you can't help but scream - and that won't help them learn not to scream.

What You Can Do

Regulating emotions and managing behavior are skills that develop slowly over time during childhood. Just like any other skills, your kids will need to learn and practice them, with your help. If it's uncharacteristic for your child to have a tantrum, on the rare occasion that it happens all you may need to do is clearly but calmly review the rules. Kids whose temper outbursts are routine might lack the self-control necessary to deal with frustration and anger and need more help managing those emotions. These steps can help:

Help kids Verbalize their feelings. If your child is in the midst of an outburst, find out what's wrong. If necessary, use a time-out to get your child to settle down or calmly issue a reminder about house rules and expectations - "There's no yelling or throwing stuff; please stop that right now and cool down." Remind your child to talk to you without whining, sulking, or yelling. Once your child calms down, ask what got him or her so upset. You might say, "Use your words to tell me what's wrong and what you're mad about." This helps your child put emotions into words and figure out what, if anything needs to be done to solve the problem. However, don't push too hard for your child to talk right then. He or she may need some time to reflect before being ready to talk.

Listen and respond. Once your child puts the feelings into words, it's up to you to listen and say that you understand. If your child is struggling for words, offer some help: "so that made you angry," "you must have felt frustrated," or "that must have hurt your feelings." Offer to help find an answer if there's a problem to be solved, a conflict to be mended, or an apology to be made.

Create clear ground rules and stick to them. Set and maintain clear expectations for what is and what is not acceptable without using threats, accusations, or putdowns. Your child will get the message if you make clear, simple statements about what's off limits and explain what you want him or her to do. You might say: "There's no yelling in this house. Use your words to tell me what's upsetting you." Try to have these discussions before an anger outburst so kids know the expectations ahead of time.

Taming temper tantrums can be a tedious job but a parent also needs to keep in mind a motive to address kids' emotions, which will go a long way in forming their personalities. If you find it too tasking it always helps to talk to someone. Form your own support group, a group of parents going through a similar phase, and also it pays off to seek professional guidance from a Mental-Health Professional. Happy Parenting!