Attitude Makeover: Bad Temper

The "Don't Give Me That Attitude" Makeover
To reduce your child's quick temper, take the following steps.

Step 1. Convey Your Attitude Expectations
Begin by firmly conveying that flaunting quick tempers will no longer be tolerated. Tell your child that while it's normal to be angry from time to time, he may not use a yelling voice, hurtful words, a tantrum, or fists to express his feelings. Then convey your "calmer policy" expectations to all family members. Consider asking them to take a "no yelling" vow. The pledge is written on a piece of paper, signed by all members, and posted as a concrete reminder.

Once everyone is clear on your attitude expectations, absolutely refuse to engage with a quick-tempered kid who yells, hits, or has a tirade. Firmly (and calmly) explain: "That's yelling. I only listen when you use a calm voice." Or "I understand you're upset, but you need to control your temper before I will listen." Then walk away and go about your business until your kid acts correctly. If you have to lock yourself in the bathroom, do so. He needs to know you mean business, so be consistent.

Step 2. Identify Temper Warning Signs
Explain to your child that we all have our own little signs that warn us our tempers are ready to blow and that we should listen to them because they can help us stay out of trouble.

Next, help your child recognize her specific warning signs that she's starting to get upset – for example, talking louder, flushed cheeks, clenched fists, pounding heart, drier mouth, or faster breathing. Once she is aware of her signs, point them out to her when she first starts to get frustrated and before she loses her temper: "Looks like you're starting to get out of control." "Your hands are in a fist now. Do you feel yourself starting to get upset?"

The more we help our kids recognize those early warning signs when their temper is triggered – usually when they first show signs of tension and stress – the better able they will be to calm themselves and learn to regulate their tempers.

Step 3. Teach Ways To Calm Quick Tempers
Once your kid is aware of his unique signs that warn him his temper is ready to blow, he needs to know how to handle his frustrations or temper. Explain that anger is normal: how we choose to deal with it can be healthy or unhealthy, as well as get us in trouble or keep us out of trouble. There are a number of anger management strategies to cool tempers. The goal is to find the one that works best for your child and then help him rehearse it again and again until it becomes a habit. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Deal with the anger. Pound clay, hit a pillow, shoot baskets, punch a punching bag. Help your child find the most effective way to calm his temper, and then encourage him to use the technique.
  • Go to a calm spot. Ask your kid to help you set up a place where he can go to gain control. Put out a few soothing things such as books, music, pens, and paper, and then encourage him to use the spot to cool down.
  • Leave the scene. Sometimes the best strategy is to leave the scene. Do emphasize that to your kid. Whenever he feels he can't control his temper, feels the urge to fight, or doesn't feel safe, he can walk away. It's always safer.
  • Use self-talk. Help your child learn to say a simple, positive message to himself to control his temper – for example, "Stop and calm down," "Stay in control," "Chill out," "I can handle this." Have your kid choose a phrase she feels most comfortable saying, and then help her rehearse it a few times each day until she can use it on her own.
  • Teach "Stop and breathe." Tell your child as soon as he feels he's losing his temper to say to himself: "Stop! Calm down." He then immediately takes a deep, slow breath (or two or three if necessary) from his tummy. Getting oxygen into the brain is one of the fastest ways to relax.
  • Imagine a calm place. Ask your kid to think of a place he has been where he feels calm and peaceful – for instance, the beach, his bed, Grandpa's backyard, a tree house. Right before his temper starts to flare and he feels those body warning signs kick in, tell him to close his eyes and imagine the spot while breathing slowly. Some kids say it helps them to pretend they are pulling a "stop sign" in front of their eyes. The sign warns them to control their temper.

Next: Keep at it >>

From Don't Give Me That Attitude by Michele Borba, Ed.D. Copyright © 2004 by Michele Borba. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Buy the book at www.amazon.com.

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