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Power of the Phone

Your child's acting up at home  -- but you're at work. According to a Parenting poll, nearly 40 percent of you have disciplined by phone. To do it most effectively, says Cathryn Tobin, M.D., author of The Parent's Problem Solver:

Get his side of the story. True, some kids push their luck when Mom's not around. But give your child a chance to explain. He may be refusing to take a nap because he saw a scary news story earlier and is frightened to go to sleep.

Put him on hold. You can't solve significant problems without being face-to-face, but you can usually put them off until you get home. Your immediate goal is to settle things down. Ask for the behavior you want to see ("No more coloring on the walls") and distract him ("Have you started that drawing for your cousin's birthday yet?"). Then add that you'll talk more later.

Relinquish power. Remind your child that when you're not there, he needs to listen to whoever's in charge, whether the issue is bathtime or how many cookies he's allowed to eat before dinner.

Don't issue threats. They may make you feel better, but they don't help. And fear isn't a smart way to control behavior.