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Temper Tantrums and Rules for Teens

Q. My 3-year-old is having major temper tantrums when he is told “no.” He yells at us, throws things, and sometimes tells us to shut up. We have tried time-out and have threatened to spank him, but haven’t done this yet. We just can’t seem to control his anger. What should we do?

A. Your task as a parent is not to control his anger, but to show him how to do this for himself. Three-year-olds have not yet mastered managing their emotions and stress. First, take a look at your son’s schedule. Is he getting enough rest at night? Is there a way to give him more unstructured playtime during the day? These things can begin to alleviate some of the stress that may be contributing to the tantrums. When the temper tantrum happens, the most important thing to do is to remain calm and in control. Empathize with your son and use a soothing tone of voice, “I can tell you are very upset right now. Let’s take some time to calm down. I’m here to help you.” It is important to continue to set consistent limits when needed, but you can do so in a loving way that bolsters your relationship. Avoid power struggles when setting limits by reminding your son of the rule you are enforcing. Try saying, The rule is everyone washes their hands before dinner, instead of relying on blanket statements like, Because I said so. Avoid making threats or using physical punishment with your son because this undermines your relationship. Your son is more likely to cooperate when he feels you are on his side. When your son is calm, you can also spend time teaching him ways to manage his feelings when he gets upset. “It’s okay to feel angry, but it is not okay to hurt ourselves or anyone else.Let’s try taking big breaths in and out.” Deep-breathing is a good stress-reliever at any age.

Q. My 17-year-old daughter is constantly rude and refuses to follow the house rules. I’ve told her that our rules are non-negotiable and not up for discussion but she continues to disrespect them. What do I do?

A. It is normal for teenagers to need to establish their independence from their parents. Teens feel the need to separate themselves from their parents, but developmentally, they still need parents to be active in their lives for guidance and support. The most effective parenting strategy for teens is to focus on the relationship. Start by checking in on your relationship with your daughter.It is helpful to schedule an activity with your teen at least once a week (ice cream, long walk, or shopping) and to have regular time to chat every day (during dinner, before bed.) Do more listening than talking, but don’t hesitate to prompt conversations if your teen seems to be clamming up. Be involved in your child’s school work and activities, know who she is spending time with, and ask questions about her interests and stressors. Pick one family rule and ask for your teen’s input on developing expectations for it.It will invite less rebellion by sending the message that you value your daughter’s point of view. Acknowledge that your daughter may need more freedom and discuss with her how to maintain safety and open lines of communication when she is spending time away from the house.Giving your daughter more of a voice may reduce the conflict you have been experiencing and enhance your relationship as a result.

Lucy Block, MS, LPC, provides therapeutic and educational services to children and families and is program coordinator of the FAM Program at Greater Richmond SCAN.
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