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How to Tame Your Preschooler's Temper

How to Tame Your Preschooler

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Updated on Aug 26, 2008

Let’s face it: preschoolers are a handful. They have difficulty sharing, they often refuse to eat or sleep, and have a particular liking for the word “no.” In these situations, children can show surprising outbursts of anger, leaving parents shocked and confused. How should you deal with these meltdowns?

In their book, I Brake for Meltdowns, Michelle Nicholasen and Barbara O’Neal say parents should not punish their children for outbursts. Anger is a normal emotion and a part of life. Self-control comes only after several years’ maturity, patient teaching, and role modeling. If, however, an outburst has a destructive effect, discipline should include the child helping to repair or somehow make amends for the material damage when he calms down.

Here are some other tips for dealing with tantrums from I Brake for Meltdowns:

After the destructive outburst, after your child has calmed a little, you might ask:

  • I wonder why you got really angry and decided to tear up your sister’s artwork?
    If there is a logical answer, get the children together, huddle them, and have them take turns speaking. If there is no logical response, then you can say:
  • I see. But you may only tear up your own artwork, not your sister’s.
  • If you are faced with a blank stare:
    Your sister is upset about what you just did, and I am, too. (Say it in a firm but not yelling voice.)
    I bet you wish that your sister didn’t feel bad. Or: I bet you are sorry you ripped that up.
    Let’s figure out a plan to make it better.

See if your child has an idea of his own. From drawing a picture to offering a treat, you’d be surprised at the creative ideas kids can come up with. Keep your tone and demeanor neutral and businesslike. You don’t want to make the consequence too exciting.

Sometimes children express their anger in a physical way, and sometimes that anger is directed towards us! We should not react against our child for lashing out at us, but it is absolutely necessary that we stop our child from physically hurting us or themselves. So, how do you respond physically to a wild child slapping and kicking you?

It’s a cultural taboo to use physical force or restraint on a child, so parents sometimes think they are doing something wrong. Physical force is only justified as a last resort for safety purposes or to achieve a critical goal. All parents use restraint sometimes, so we might as well learn how to do it safely.

Here are three safe alternatives to spanking that can help restrain your child:

  1. When getting into the car: Take a minute to catch your breath and remember that every kid resists sometimes. Instead of the white-knuckle grip, use your forearm to secure your child’s torso against the back of the seat and slide your child’s arms through the straps. Remember to duck flailing limbs. Once the car gets moving, calm usually settles in.
  2. When getting off a subway or bus: How many times have you seen a parent lifting a child into the air by the wrist? Because the practice is ubiquitous, you might be inclined to think it’s okay. However, it is not safe and can dislocate the elbow or shoulder. When exiting a subway or bus, life the child with both hands by the midsection and carry them off. It may seem like a burden, and you may have to shuffle bags around, but it is the safest way to exit.
  3. When stopping a rampage or destructive fit of anger: We’re not talking about the run-of-the-mill temper tantrum, but when your child is out of control and destructive to the point where he/she can hurt themselves or others. The answer: create a “containment circle.” Sitting cross-legged on the floor with your child squirming in your lap, hold your arms a distance away from them to create a circle. Deflect limbs and keep your head up so you don’t get thunked in the jaw by your child’s head. As soon as their body relaxes, you can let go. Remember you are not doing this in order to punish them. You are doing this because you care about trying to help them control their destructive impulses.

Keep in mind that the best of kids have their share of meltdowns—it’s part of growing up!

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