The Playtime Pop
Habitats: Playgroups, playgrounds
Triggers: Sharing, certain playmates, competition with other kids
Age range: 3 to 6, when toddlers and preschoolers become more social
Look for: Rapidly diminishing interest in play; grabbing toys away from playmates; throwing, pushing, slapping, and biting
Field report: When child-development expert Bonnie Harris's son was 6, he threw a whopper of a tantrum after losing a board game to an older child. "It really shocked me, but in retrospect it was actually classic for that age: the need to win, to be perfect, and to have things go his own way," she says.
Prevention and handling:
* Assess the playgroup. Does it seem like the meeting times, length, and dynamics are going to jibe with your child's nap schedule and temperament?
* Head off a fight. If your child throws tantrums when he has to share a special toy, ask him to put it away before the playdate. And compliment the kids on their sharing skills when they do try -- you just might inspire more good behavior.
* Make up some rules. Kate Kelly, a mom of three and author of The Baffled Parent's Guide to Stopping Bad Behavior, recommends carefully explaining procedures: "It's your turn to hold this toy, but when I count to twenty, it will be her turn." Then "I counted to twenty, and now it's Jamie's turn."
* Take the lead when tempers blow. Sometimes parents are afraid to take action in front of other parents, says DeBroff. If you wait for one of the other grown-ups to step in, you -- and your child -- may find yourselves waiting a long, long time for relief.
* Call for snack breaks during minor altercations. A change in routine can nip a tantrum in the bud.