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Toddler Tantrum Solutions and Discipline Tips

Q: My 3 1/2-year-old protests loudly at bedtime, then repeatedly comes out with some excuse (she needs water, has to pee, or wants more stories). How can I stop this?

A: Establish a consistent bedtime routine: bath, two stories, two songs, etc. "Most kids don't have enough rhythm and ritual around bedtime," says Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting. "When they have the same routine every night, it's like soul balm."

Once she's in bed, tell her: "You don't have to sleep. Just close your eyes." Insisting that she sleep may make her anxious. If she comes out, lead her back without carrying her or even looking at her, and use what Payne calls the "broken-record response." Say "Here's Jen again. Let's go back to bed." "A flat-line response gives her no emotional oxygen. If you try to think of something clever to say and you're angry, then she's won," Payne says.

If she screams after you leave, repeat something like "Shh, everything's okay" from the door, Payne advises. "It's boring but calming. After a while, she'll stop because there's nothing in it for her." It could take several horrific days, though, so stay strong!

You could also try a reward system: Put a sticker on a chart every night she goes to bed quietly. After five stars, she gets a small gift. Just be warned that charts don't work for all tykes. Some kids realize they can raise the stakes and demand better rewards.

Q: Help! My 4-year-old daughter has such a hot temper that I've spoiled her rotten. If she doesn't get a toy when we go out, she can cry for an entire day!

A: Before you go shopping the next time, lay out your expectations. For example: "We are going to buy cousin Joey a train for his birthday. We're not buying anything for you, me, or Dad." When she starts yelling in the store, say "I know you really like it. Let's remember to put this on your birthday list. Today we're only buying a toy for Joey." It's important to acknowledge the child's desire, says Betsy Brown Braun, author of Just Tell Me What to Say: Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents, but "gently remind her she's not getting anything." Bring along another toy from home or play an I Spy game at the store (Can she spot a boy with a dinosaur on his shirt? A woman with a blue hat?) to distract her.

What if she goes ballistic? Either say, peacefully, "This behavior is unacceptable and we're leaving the store," or take a deep breath and let her melt down. Some kids are just more hottempered than others, and there's little you can do to cool them down once they're heated up. If you attract an audience, just shrug your shoulders and say "Being four isn't easy!" Then get your gift as quickly as you can, scoop her up if she won't walk on her own, and head for the parking lot.

Later, when it's all over, revisit what happened. Tell your daughter "That was really a big fuss. It's okay to be disappointed, but you still didn't get the doll. Sometimes you don't get what you want." The next time you visit a grocery or drugstore, praise her for not throwing a fit: "Wow, we just went shopping and you didn't whine the entire time!" Your little want-it-all may ease up on the Veruca Salt antics over time.

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