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Stopping the Tantrums: Teaching Kids How to Soothe and Calm Themselves

Be Aware of the Stress Cycle

If you are stressed, odds are your child is, too. In a tight, controlled voice, Susan told me, "My son has been awake for thirty minutes and has already been in a time-out three times. I don't want to hit him, and I don't want to start screaming, but something has got to give here!

If your child wakes up ready to erupt, it means the stress hormones are surging through his body and the quantity is so great that the residue remains in his system even during sleep.

I asked Susan what stresses her family had been experiencing lately. She proceeded to tell me of a recent cross-country move, a new job for her husband with more travel than he'd ever experienced before, new schools for the kids, and a feeling of isolation having just arrived in Minnesota in the middle of January.

"How high is your intensity right now?" I asked her. "I'm over the top most of the day," she replied. "I'm barely hanging on."

When your stress levels are very high, your responses become inconsistent and unpredictable. What normally wouldn't bother you turns you into a shrieking shrew or a bellowing bull. Your child can't predict your response. As a matter of survival, he goes on alert. Be ready for fight or flight at any moment, his brain tells him, and the stress hormones flow through his body. Stress also creates neural static, so when you normally might be able to read your child's cues and help him monitor his emotions, you miss them or don't pick them up until they're smacking you in the face.

There are two simple strategies that can make monitoring your child's emotions easier.


From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.

Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.

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