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Field Guide to Temper Tantrums

The Unhappy Ogre

Habitats: Absolutely anywhere, from home to amusement parks

Trigger: Thwarted desire

Age range: 2 to 6, when children begin developing strong opinions about their wants

Look for: Begging and whining when decisions don't go her way

Field report: Leslie Lido of Merrick, New York, was in a public waiting room with her 4-year-old daughter, Madeline, who proceeded to fly into a rage over a piece of gum. Finally, Lido left the room, with screaming child in tow. Out in the hallway, though, Madeline continued the tantrum, grabbing hold of her mother's elastic-waist pants and actually pulling them down. "People were getting off the elevators, staring at us," Lido says. "Madeline was rolling around, screaming, and banging her head. It was my worst nightmare." When her daughter started to calm down, Lido told her they were going to return to the waiting room and sit nicely. Back they went, with Madeline acting as though nothing had happened.


Prevention and handling:

* Take mini-breaks when tempers ignite. Find a quiet place where the two of you can read a book together, talk quietly, or cuddle.

* Become a tantrum detective. Try to determine what sets your child off. Too much visual stimulation? Sugary sweets? Corinne Gregory of Woodinville, Washington, has a 4-year-old daughter who used to throw a major fit after naps. The culprit? Low blood sugar. A cup of juice right away eliminated the little girl's outbursts.

* Provide alternatives. Abbi Perets of Valley Village, California, offers her 2-year-old daughter, Liat, cheese or bananas before she has time to beg for the favorite sugary snack that puts her in a black mood when it's denied.

* Breathe deeply -- both of you. Even a 2-year-old can mimic -- and learn -- deep breathing. And it does help.

You're sure to discover that there's no such thing as a typical tantrum -- some are long, big, and loud, while others end quickly but leave a nasty bite. With some experimentation and (unfortunately) experience, you'll figure out the best ways to handle these messy moments. And soon, she'll develop enough self-control to keep her emotions in check (and her voice at a manageable decibel level). That is, until she's a teen...