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Teach Your Child to Handle Anger

When my eldest daughter, Olivia, neared 2, she started hitting me. All sorts of injustices could elicit a serious whack from my formerly angelic child  -- announcing it was bathtime, say, or my wearing the wrong shade of lipstick. Being an enlightened mother, I checked my impulse to swat back; instead, I said, "We don't hit people" and told her to use her words.

Eventually, the smacking ceased, but the emphasis on words backfired. Olivia would creep up on me, and in a subdued voice she'd confess: "Mommy, I want to hit you."

The way kids express anger evolves much as they do, from uncivilized to articulate. And although it's one of the most unsettling emotions a parent can deal with, childhood wrath is as natural (and useful) an emotion as love. "Anger can serve an important function  -- it's energizing. When we're mad about something, it can help us solve a problem. It's the same for kids," says John Lochman, Ph.D., professor of clinical psychology at the University of Alabama and a specialist in youth aggression.

So don't tell your little one that she shouldn't flare up, no matter how inconsequential the matter seems to you. But neither should she be allowed to express her anger by becoming aggressive or hysterical. Watch your own temper too  -- if you shout and curse every time another driver cuts you off, why shouldn't your child do the same when she's upset?

Luckily, you can teach kids constructive ways to let off steam, starting from infancy.