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Taming a Temper: Yours and Theirs
Taming a Temper: Yours and Theirs
Oct 27, 2009
As a parent, do you wonder, what can I do when my child has a temper tantrum? How can I stay calm? How do I teach a child to express anger without hurting someone? The following guidelines are not meant to be infallible, but merely options that can help to break an angry confrontation or a stalemate. It is helpful to know that there are things to do and solutions to try that have worked for others and can work for you.
1) Begin to name and understand the triggers for your child's anger and for yours. Common triggers for children are: being overtired, not getting their way, overstimulation, having to switch gears. Common triggers for adults are: feeling helpless in the face of noncompliance, being in a hurry, worrying about children turning out okay, exhaustion. Recognizing these triggers can prepare you for responding more appropriately when buttons get pushed.
2) Recognize the ways in which you escalate anger with your responses to it. Do you bark orders, make empty threats, try guilt tripping, lecture, yell, spank, nag? All these things may work in the short run, but not in the long run. They become habitual responses which children learn to ignore. They do not teach children how to handle difficult feelings without aggression.
3) When your anger gets triggered, give yourself some lag time between the feeling of anger and your response. Stop and wait before you react. If you are about to explode or have exploded, give yourself a time-out. OK to say, "I'm feeling too angry to talk right now. I'm walking out of the room and I'll be back when I'm ready to talk." Or, "I can see that you're too angry to talk about this right now. Let me know when you're ready." This is exercising and modeling self-control for your child.
4) Validate your child's anger. Do not attempt to talk children out of their feelings and to make anger go away as quickly as possible. Reasoning, giving advice, offering solutions and minimizing children's complaints, are ways of getting them over their uncomfortable feelings. Instead, show them you can tolerate those feelings by saying things like: "I can see that you're very angry; You really wish you could be the boss, don't you?; It is hard when you have to stop playing and come home; I can see that you are very disappointed and that's making you very angry; It is okay to be angry but it's not okay to hit me." It can help to say this over and over again like a soothing mantra.
5) Intervene at the very beginning of an interaction by giving your child a choice. It is normal for children to vociferously object to your requests. yet, they still need to accede to your wishes. Instead of repeating the request over and over again, give them a choice between two acceptable options. Examples: "You can play with that ball outside or I will take it away. What would you like it to be? You can do your spelling homework first or your math. What would you like to do? If the child doesn't choose, you let her know you'll choose for her. Choices allow children to maintain the feeling of being in charge, while still complying with your requests. When you intervene quickly with choices, the chances of an angry confrontation are greatly reduced.
6) Give up trying to resolve a problem in the heat of the moment. Wait until the anger has dissipated before reaching a solution. It is fine to say, I am too angry to talk about this right now, but we will talk when I (or we) calm down. It does not work to threaten or apply consequences in the midst of a rage. Unreasonable threats are unenforceable and diminish your effectiveness. Wait until you have time to cool down, think it through and create a consequence that will teach rather than demean.
7) Stay in the present. Avoid lengthy tirades that belabor the point and bring up past grievances. Avoid futurizing, e.g. "You will never learn." "If you don't learn to manage your homework now, you will never go to college." Stick to the present incident and banish all dire predictions.
8) Keep it short, specific and to the point. Beware of long explanations or diatribes that create parent-deaf children! You can never give a good enough explanation that will keep children from wanting what they wanted in the first place. OK to sound like a broken record, repeating your instructions over and over, briefly, calmly and firmly: "We're shopping for food, not toys." "After eight o'clock, it's grown up time."
9) Use writing as a way to express feelings, calm yourself, or your child. Have young children dictate a note to you about how they're feeling or list what is making them angry. Write your older children a message describing the rules they broke, how it made you feel, what you'd like them to do about it, and what you will do in return. Ask them to RSVP.
10) Pick and choose your issues. Survey the situation at your house and decide what's non-negotiable and what isn't. A good "rule of thumb:" make rules about those things that affect your well-being (e.g. getting children to bed on time, no name-calling) or the well-being and safety of your child (brushing teeth, holding your hand when crossing the street). Avoid the "shoulds": the rules your mother would want you to make, your best friend's rules. Watch for those gray areas (the things that cause you to ineffectively nag and see if 1) letting go of them would create more peace and less work for you...or 2) if you need to make them into a non-negotiable rule and go for it!
11) Acknowledge your children for the work they are doing to control their anger, and acknowledge yourself too. "I am noticing how good you are getting at using your words instead of screaming when you are angry. You are really learning to take care of your anger.'
12) In the aftermath of an angry confrontation, restore good feelings. All parents "lose it," and it's not the end of the world. We still have the option of talking it over and admitting if we were wrong or unfair. It's important to teach children that everyone makes mistakes and it's okay to acknowledge it. Brain research tells us that it is not about being perfect. The act of making these repairs rebuilds the connection between parent and child and greatly enhances the growth of the mind