Strategies for the Real World
Sure, the advice seems reasonable now, but how can you put it to use when you're faced with a kid who's shrieking and shaking his fists at you? Some likely scenarios, and how to handle them:
Your 9-month-old cries endlessly when you pick her up just short of her destination -- the cord from the drapes in your living room. Childproofing your home is the best -- and safest -- solution: Do everything you can to minimize the number of times you'll need to admonish your child. When you do need to say no, try distraction. Give her a toy to play with after she's out of harm's way.
Your 2-year-old has a playmate over, but he screams whenever his friend reaches for his favorite toy. "Parents need to have realistic expectations for their kids," says Rona Novick, Ph.D., coordinator of child psychology at Schneider Children's Hospital, in New Hyde Park, NY. A 2-year-old shouldn't be expected to share a prized toy, so before visitors arrive, you might decide together which toys he's willing to share and which ones to put away. If he has an outburst over the toys that are fair game, calmly take him out of the room and explain that he can join his friend again when he quiets down. Keep in mind that he simply might not be ready to share anything yet!
Your 3-year-old gets into a tizzy at the toy store. Kids at this age can be especially strong-willed, but try to enforce the same rules in public that you do at home, says Novick. Otherwise, your child will learn she can manipulate you in certain (embarrassing) circumstances. Set limits ahead of time: "We'll buy one small toy for you after we find a birthday present for your brother." Once a tantrum starts, immediately take your child out of the store, then help her calm down. Teach her that she gets things only when she behaves well. When the dust has settled, explain that you won't take her back to the store until she gets a better handle on how to behave there. Whatever you do, don't let her think there's any benefit to throwing a tantrum in public.
Your 4-year-old falls apart while struggling with his shoelaces. Preschoolers are often obsessed with doing everything for themselves. When you can, allow extra time for your child to futz with his buttons and laces, and teach him the skills he's ready to master. Give lots of encouragement and offer to help once you see his frustration mounting: "You really work at learning to do new things!" If he's having a full-fledged tantrum, simply tell him you understand and that you can help him learn to tie when he's feeling better.
Your 5-year-old melts down at a birthday party. Big events like these are fraught with triggers. Your child may be overstimulated, or tired, or disappointed that she didn't win any party games. In any case, you'll need to separate her from the other kids. Take her to a quiet area if there's a possibility that she'll collect herself, or take her home if she's really at the end of her rope. She'll probably feel terrible about having to leave and miss out on things, so have her talk about it, and how she might handle a similar situation differently.