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Parenting in a Nutshell: A cool head calms hot tantrums

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Perhaps not as easy as following the steps to change a diaper, enrolling your child in school or teaching her how to swim, learning how to handle and prevent tantrums with a calm head is an important part of sane parenting. And what parent doesn't want to protect their sanity?

• Say “No” without saying “No.” Scene: Grocery store. Mother and 5-year-old. Child, after being told “No” to repeatedly heated pleas for a snack, rises to a full-blown tantrum until Mom responds with, “That's it! No ice cream for a week.” At this, the screams intensify until the pair skulk out of the store. There's a better way. Explain to your child that you understand how badly he wants a snack now, but he will get one at home if he continues to be helpful in the store. This puts the responsibility for getting the snack where it belongs — on your child. It is his choice; yet, you are sympathetic to his feelings.

• Quiet the environment. Computer, TV, pads/tablets, phones, tech-y toys. It's hard to find a home, day-care center, school, playground or restaurant that doesn't have some electronic device crackling and flashing most hours of the day. An environment that is too stimulating stimulates your child too much. Too much stimulation makes for easier meltdowns — this is true for adults, as well. At least once a week, turn it all off, listen to some pleasant background music and read or play board games together. An old-fashioned evening? Maybe, but what's wrong with that?

• Keep babysitters/caregivers as familiar as possible. It's easy to ask friends for the names of a babysitter when your old standby comes down with the flu, but a new face in the crowd can be a reason some young children melt down. Research at the University of Minnesota found that the more caregivers a young child has — especially caregivers who are not close to or familiar to the family — the more difficult it is for the child to feel truly cared for, yet another reason children have meltdowns. Ask the new babysitter to arrive an hour early so that you will be home to observe how the sitter and your child interact. This can make your child feel more secure. In the same vein, when your child will be attending a new day care or preschool, arrange for a lengthy visit before your child starts her routine there. If the school objects, find a new one.

• Know what to expect by keeping a routine. Children generally love the routine of routines. Order, and making sense of that order, keep a child calmer. Wake time, nap times, mealtimes, story times, pick-up and drop-off at school times, soccer or piano practice times — it's all a lovely melody that soothes your child. If there is a break in a routine, or if a new routine is about to start, gently introduce your child to the change by talking about it and mentioning the benefits (“You are growing up, so your nap time is changing.”).

Email doreennagle@hotmail.com.

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