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Just Ignore It

Ignore Behavior; Respond To Emotion

Certain things kids do are almost guaranteed to rile even the most sweet-tempered parent. The top culprit? Whining, by a long shot. It's probably the behavior most deserving of disregard. But that doesn't mean it's a call to inaction.

"It never hurts to acknowledge your child's feelings," says Phyllis Sonnenschein, a senior consultant for Families First Parenting Programs, in Cambridge, MA. "But do so with a smile and then move on: 'Yes, I know you want that cereal, but you know what the rules are about sweet cereals. That's just the way it is.'" This way, you're not giving in to a request you've deemed unreasonable but responding to the completely normal underlying frustration.

Trickier than whining is its big brother: crying. Parents get caught up trying to quiet wailing both to make their child feel better and to protect their own sanity. But, as with whining, crying doesn't always call for more than a simple acknowledgment of what's behind it, unless it's due to pain or fear.

Suppose your child sobs when the video he's watching ends and you announce that it's time for bed  -- your basic, run-of-the-mill "No, I don't want to go to bed, I want to watch another video!" scene. Obviously, you don't want to just give in  -- it's bedtime. But you don't totally ignore him, either. "Tell him you're sorry he's sad or angry, and if he feels like crying, it's okay, and when he's done, you can read together or cuddle," suggests Sonnenschein. Then scoop him up and proceed with toothbrushing and getting ready for bed. The bottom line: If the tears aren't caused by a true crisis, don't treat the outburst like one.