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Field Guide to Temper Tantrums

The It's-Time-for-Bed Blowout

Habitat: The bedroom

Triggers: Exhaustion, disrupted schedules, fervent wish not to miss anything

Age range: Mostly older toddlers and preschoolers, but occasionally overtired new walkers (and preteens!)

Look for: Squirming, yawning, and vigorous rubbing of eyes accompanied by a fierce, vocal desire to remain vertical

Field report: Even after a long car trip, 18-month-old Oliver was still going strong -- at 2 a.m. When I urged him upstairs, he burst into tears and pushed me away. Forty-five minutes later, I gave up and called it a night -- if you could still call it that. I lugged him into bed with me and, as he howled and thrashed, announced, "Oliver, I'm tired and I'm going to sleep. Good night." This ignited a fresh outburst, but five minutes later he snuggled up to me, an angel in repose. Score one for Mommy!


Prevention and handling:

* Stick to bedtime routines. If you get distracted by phone calls and expect your child to trot off to bed without incident, you're kidding yourself. Let your answering machine do its work.

* Announce transitions well ahead of time. Try "When the video is over, it will be time for your bath," or "Let's read these three stories, and then we'll turn out the light."

* Set the mood for sleep. Think dimmed lights, quiet voices, and calm music.

* Create a bedtime reward plan for kids 3 and older, advises Virginia Shiller, Ph.D., author of Rewards for Kids!: Ready-to-Use Charts & Activities for Positive Parenting. Make a plan together that after a certain number of peaceful bedtimes, your child will earn a modest treat, such as a day at the park or a video rental.

* Stop trying so hard. Put her in bed, shut the door, and let her cry for a few minutes alone -- it may tire her out enough to get her to sleep. If she doesn't quit after five minutes, go in and comfort her, then leave and wait again, this time for ten minutes.