Attitude Makeover: Bad Temper
Many kids are quick-tempered because they have never learned ways to stay in control and to express their frustrations in a healthy manner. Find one that works best for your kid, and then help him practice it again and again until he learns it and can use it without your guidance. Here are three possibilities:
- Say how you feel. Younger kids or those with limited language skills can say how they feel to their offender. You must teach your kid an emotion vocabulary so she can express how she feels (such as angry, upset, mad, frustrated, furious, stressed, tense, nervous, anxious, irritated, furious, ticked off). Then encourage her to use her feeling words whenever her temper starts to flare: "I'm mad" or "I'm really, really angry."
- Use an "I message." Once your child knows emotion words, he can use them to tell the other person how he feels or what he wants the other to do. The statement must be delivered calmly and focus on the problem. No name-calling or put-downs are allowed because they just fuel the other person's temper: "I'm angry that you took my CD without asking. Next time ask my permission." Or "I am really feeling stressed about this test coming up, so I need some space."
- Talk to someone about it. Sometimes it may be counterproductive or even destructive to confront someone with your anger, especially on the spot, just after something has happened to provoke it. So talk to your kids about when to stuff it and vent elsewhere, a useful technique especially for preteens and teens.
One of the simplest ways to change kids' behavior is to catch them being good. It's also the technique most parents do the least. Any time you notice your kid handling a difficult situation calmly, expressing his frustrations without yelling, hitting, biting, or having a tantrum, or keeping his temper in control, acknowledge his behavior and let him know you appreciate his efforts: "I noticed you were really mad, but you walked away to control your temper. That's really a good sign." "You used your words this time to tell your brother how upset you were. Good for you!" Remember that attitudes that are reinforced are the ones that kids will continue to use. Reinforce your kid for any efforts he takes to control his temper.
Step 6. Monitor Media Consumption
Kids learn attitudes about temper not only from directly watching parents, teachers, and their peers but also from observing characters in books, movies, and television. And what they are watching is troubling. The typical preschooler who watches about two hours of cartoons daily will be exposed to 10,000 violent incidents per year. By the end of elementary school, the average child will have witnessed 8,000 murders and by age eighteen, 200,000 other vivid acts of violence on the TV screen.
And all those violent images do affect our kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics and five other prominent medical groups conclude that "viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children." The American Psychological Association estimates that televised violence by itself contributes up to as much as 15 percent of all of kids' aggressive behaviors. Monitor what your kid watches and listen to what she consumes.
Step 7. Use A Consequence When Inappropriate Temper Displays Persists
What do you do if your kid continues displaying a quick, inappropriate temper? First, stay cool yourself; then it's time for consequences. Make sure you explain the consequence at a relaxed time not during a screaming match. It must be enforced each time your kid displays his bad-tempered attitude.
Tell a younger kid that each time he displays that quick temper inappropriately (such as yelling, hitting, biting, or a tantrum), he will be sent to time-out (or the "calm-down chair") for a few minutes to help him remember how to control his temper. Just remember that time starts after your child gets himself in control.
An appropriate consequence for older kids might be losing a desired privilege such as the telephone or television for a set length (an hour or the evening, depending on the circumstances). Once you set the consequence, then use the same consequence every time. Your kid needs to know you are serious about helping him alter his quick-tempered attitude.
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.