How To Parent: Stop Kids Interrupting When Parents Speak

Help! My Child is “The Constant Interrupter”

Help! My Child is The Constant Interrupter Does your child seem to interrupt every conversation with the words, “But Mom…” or “But Dad…” ? Do they constantly cut you off mid-sentence to tell you that something’s not fair?

Interrupting comes from a variety of sources, including over-stimulation, competition with siblings and peers, impulsivity and general family patterns of communication. It’s helpful to pinpoint what combination of these factors contributes to the behavior that you’re seeing your child display. Whatever it is, the most effective thing to do in the moment is to calmly and simply say, “Don’t interrupt me until I’m done.” If the child doesn’t stop immediately, turn around and walk away. Practice that consistently, and it will change their behavior. Secondly, and this is important, don’t interrupt your child when he or she is speaking. It’s important to hear them out if you want them to hear you out.

If the interruption comes from impulsivity or poor communication skills, during times of calmness, talk about interrupting and what it feels like to be interrupted. Ask your children what it feels like for them. You can ask, “Have you ever been interrupted by another child at school when you’re trying to talk to the teacher? How did it make you feel?” And tell them it makes you feel like they’re not listening to you. Don’t get into a big emotional deal about it by saying how it hurts your feelings. Just tell them that you feel they’re not listening to you and that it’s important for people to listen to one another. Don’t tell them your feelings are hurt unless it’s real.

I also recommend that you sit down with them and teach them how to manage urges and communicate more effectively. There are resources available that can help you to do that, but no matter which one you use, make sure that it teaches everyone to slow things down when they’re communicating. Finally, be aware of what behavior you as parents and role models are teaching them. One of the most effective ways to show children how to change bad habits and communication is to not indulge in them yourself.

Help! My Child is “The Constant Interrupter” reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit

James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James’ foremost goal was to help kids and to “empower parents.”

How To Parent: Children Saying I Forgot As An Excuse For Not Doing Something They Are Told

Does Your Child Say This? “I forgot.”

Does Your Child Say This? I forgot.Is your child’s answer to everything, “I forgot?” The fact of the matter is, sometimes children do forget, and certainly a reminder from the parent to do their work or complete a task is appropriate. But when kids use “I forgot” on a regular basis, it becomes a way to justify irresponsible behavior. As an excuse, “I forgot” means the child is avoiding a certain task or responsibility which they don’t feel they can perform and don’t know how to get help with. Or it could be because they’re being lazy and don’t care about it. Laziness causes as much irresponsible behavior on the part of children as any other explanation. Sometimes laziness can be interpreted as “I’m tired and I don’t feel like it.” Sometimes laziness can be interpreted as “My life’s not going to get better anyway, why should I try?” In either case, laziness doesn’t empower the child to take care of business.
So when your child says “I forgot,” you have to say, “Forgetting is not an excuse to justify not doing something.”

Child: “I forgot!”

Translation: “I don’t feel like it.” Or ”Why should I try?”

Ineffective response: You didn’t forget! You’re just saying that because you’re lazy.”

Effective response: “Not forgetting is your responsibility. I’ll help you learn ways to not forget, such as creating an assignment book for school, or using cue cards to prompt you for the next task. If you’d like, I’ll help you develop a list. But you are responsible for remembering what it is you need to do.”

Does Your Child Say This? “I forgot.” reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit

James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James’ foremost goal was to help kids and to “empower parents.”

How To Parent: Stop Toddlers’ Physical Outbursts

Hitting, Biting and Kicking: How to Stop Aggressive Behavior in Young Children

“I’m not allowed to bring Ben to play group anymore,” said Sarah, whose son is now five years old. “The last time we went, he bit another boy who was playing with a truck Ben wanted. And the time before that, he hit a little girl across the face. I try to tell him ‘no’ but he just doesn’t listen, so I just end up apologizing for him. I’m starting to feel like the world’s worst parent because I can’t control him when he acts out.”

“It’s easy to respond to your child’s aggression with yelling or anger, but remember, your child is looking to you for cues on how to control his impulses and have good behavior.”

As parents, few situations are more difficult to deal with than having a child who is aggressive toward other children. It can be embarrassing as well as frightening when your child bites, hits, scratches or kicks to get his or her way. It’s not uncommon for younger children to engage in this type of behavior at various points in their development and in a variety of settings. However, when it becomes very frequent or seems to be their consistent way of reacting to something they don’t like, it’s time to step in and help them change their behavior. The first step is understanding the underlying reasons why your child is choosing to act out this way. The more you understand what’s happening, the better you’ll be able to help them find other, non-aggressive ways to solve their problems.

Initially, between the ages of 18 months to 2 years, children find it extremely hard to communicate their needs to their parents, caregivers, and other children. Negative behaviors are one way they may choose to get their point across. For older children between the ages of three and six, such behaviors may be the result of never having learned appropriate, non-aggressive ways of communicating when they were faced with a difficult situation. The cause of aggressive behaviors may be due to any or all of the following:

  • Self-defense
  • Being placed in a stressful situation
  • Lack of routine
  • Extreme frustration or anger
  • Inadequate speech development
  • Over-stimulation
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of adult supervision
  • Mirroring the aggressive behaviors of other children around them

One place to begin is to watch your child for cues to see if any of the situations described above brings about aggressive behavior. Learning as much as you can about the factors that trigger bad behavior is the best way to combat it when it occurs next time. Some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Who does my child hit, bite or kick? Does he do it to one friend in particular? Does he only do it to me? Or does he tend to be aggressive with whomever he is with? If it’s one person in particular, try to find out if there’s a reason why he’s attacking that child such as engaging in overly aggressive play, a poor match of temperaments or a lack of clear cut rules before play begins.
  • Also, what seems to cause your child to act out in an aggressive fashion? Is it triggered by frustration, anger, or excitement? Notice if there are patterns. Does he act this way when toys are involved, and he’s frustrated about sharing? Or does he become aggressive when there is too much going on and he’s over-stimulated? If you observe the situations carefully, you will likely notice patterns.
  • Finally, how is his aggressiveness expressed? Is it through angry words or through angry behaviors? Does he become verbally aggressive first and then physically aggressive, or is his first response to strike out and hit?

By answering these questions, you are on your way to successfully limiting your child’s aggressive behavior in the future. In this article, I’ll outline some ways that you can help your child become more aware of his aggressive feelings and teach him to calm himself down, or find alternative ways to solve his problems. We’ll also talk about giving consequences to kids when they do lash out and hurt someone. In my experience, consequences are imperative to ending aggressive behavior in young children. They teach your child that all behaviors have a consequence, whether good or bad, and will help him make better choices in the future when he is with his friends. Once you’ve narrowed down the reasons why your child is behaving aggressively, it’s time to intervene.

Related: Give your child consequences that really work.

Step in and Stop it Immediately

At the first sign that your child is about to become aggressive, immediately step in and remove him from the situation. Be careful not to give too much attention to your child so that you do not give any negative reinforcement for the bad behavior. Too much attention can include trying to “talk through” the problem. Young children are not able to hear long explanations of why their behavior was offensive. A simple yet firm statement such as, “We don’t bite” should suffice while you turn your attention to the victim. Other examples of too much attention include yelling at your child while attending to the victim, forcing your child to apologize immediately or continuing to talk to the other parents around you about how embarrassed or angry you are. Make a point of consoling the victim and ignoring the aggressor. If your child cannot calm down, remove him or her from the situation without getting angry yourself. When they are calm and ready to talk, you can discuss what happened. If it’s physically impossible to remove your child, you will have to remove yourself and the victim from the situation. By walking an age-appropriate distance away from your child after he has acted out, you are sending the message that you will attend to him when he can calm down. In doing so, you are teaching your child that it is his responsibility to learn to calm himself and act appropriately.

Lower Your Voice—Don’t Raise It

As parents, we need to show self-control and use gentle words if we want our kids to do the same. It’s easy to respond with yelling or anger, but remember, your child is looking to you for cues on how to control his impulses and have good behavior. While it can be terribly embarrassing to have a child that continues to act out towards their friends, keep in mind that their negative behavior is most likely happening because they are still navigating their way through their social circles. This can be very difficult for some kids, so try not to over-react or personalize it.

One technique that works very well for some children is to change the tone and volume of your voice. You can help your child stay calm by immediately lowering your voice when attending to the victim as well as to your child. If he is unable to calm down, before helping the victim, turn to him and say quietly, “I need you to calm down now. I am going to help Josh and when I am done I want you to be done screaming.” For some kids this will work, and when your child returns to you, calm and collected, feel free to quietly praise him, saying, “Thank you for calming yourself down. We don’t bite. It hurt Josh and he is sad.” Repeat the phrase “We don’t bite” and inform your child that if it happens again, the consequence is that you will leave. If this does not work for your child and he simply cannot calm down, leave him where he is (again, at an age-appropriate distance) and ignore the tantrum. Most young children will not continue to act out if they no longer have an audience.

Practice Ways to De-fuse your Child’s Anger
For younger kids, help them recognize their anger by stating, “I know you’re mad, but we don’t hit. No hitting!” For children aged 3-7, talk about anger as an important feeling. You can practice ways to de-fuse your child’s anger during calmer moments. You can say, “Sometimes I get angry too. When that happens, I say ‘I’m angry’ and I leave the room.” You can also teach your child how to count to ten until he is less angry, how to do deep breathing in order to calm down, or how to use his words by making statements such as “I am really, really angry right now!” All of these methods help take the immediate focus off of your child’s anger and teach them to recognize this important emotion. Before you enter into a potentially difficult social situation, review the consequences with your child about what will happen if he cannot control his anger. Tell your child, “I feel you can handle your anger, but if you can’t, we will have to leave the park and not come back until next week. Do you understand?” Make certain that you follow through with whatever consequences you pose to your child.

Teach Kids that Aggression is Wrong
It’s also important to talk to your children about aggression during a calm moment. In a steady voice, explain to your child that hitting, biting, kicking, and other aggressive behaviors are wrong. For younger children, those between 18 months and 2 years, keep it simple. Hold them and explain, “No hitting. It is wrong.” Remember that you may have to repeat this rule numerous times, using the same words, until your child gets it. Be firm and consistent each time your child becomes aggressive. Have a plan in place for consequences if aggressive behavior starts. At home, this can include a time-out chair away from the rest of the family where your child can stay until he can calm down. If you are away from home, pick a safe place, such as a time-out in a car seat or another place where your child is removed from the fun. This reinforces that you are not tolerating aggression in any form.

Related: Learn how to manage your child’s aggressive behavior.

For older children, those between 3 and 7, remember that they may be experimenting with cause and effect. In other words, they want to see what you will do when they act out. It’s your job to provide the consequences for the “effect” to work. Since older children are more verbal, you can use a variety of phrases when they misbehave. Examples include, “Biting is not OK,” or “Hitting hurts others. You need to stop.” It is okay to tell your little biter/hitter/kicker that once he misbehaves, he’s lost a privilege for the day. Consequences can include leaving a play date immediately or losing video time.

Tell Your Child to “Use Your Words”

Many times kids who display aggressive behaviors simply lack the communication skills necessary to help them through a stressful situation. For a young child, biting or hitting someone is a whole lot easier! Plus, aggressive behaviors often give children a false sense of power over their peers. It’s up to you to work diligently with your child so that he or she can practice the art of diplomacy in a tough situation. Help your child find their voice when they feel like acting out. By explaining and then practicing using their words, you are helping them to trade off aggressive behavior in favor of more socially acceptable behavior. Some examples are:

  • Teach your child to say “No!” to their peers instead of acting aggressively. Too often a child reacts negatively to a friend or sibling instead of asserting themselves. By using the simple word “no,” you are helping your child to get his point across verbally, not aggressively.
  • Give your child a series of phrases to use with their friends when they are feeling angry or frustrated. Some examples are, “No, that’s mine,” “I don’t like that!” or “Stop! That hurts.” This helps your child substitute words for striking out.

Before you enter a situation that you know may cause your child to act aggressively (i.e., a play date or daycare) remind your child to “Use your words.” Repeat this to your child throughout the course of the week when you feel they are getting frustrated.

Recognize Your Child’s Limitations

This means knowing when to leave a potentially volatile situation or choosing to engage your child in a different activity to avoid aggressive confrontations. If you know that your child targets a particular child at play group, you may have to hold off going to play group for a few weeks until he learns to control himself. Or, if certain videos, games, or activities frustrate your child, remove them from your daily routine to see if this has a placating effect on your child’s behavior. Finally, if your child is exhausted, hungry, or over-stimulated, respect that and engage in low-key, slow-paced activities that will make aggression less likely. With your older, more verbal child, talk openly about situations that make him angry and work together to come up with solutions to help him through the problem next time.

Be Appreciative of their Efforts

When you catch your child being good, be sure to praise their hard work and efforts. For instance, if you observe your children in a power struggle over a toy that ends in them working it out peacefully with their friend, tell them how proud you are that they chose to use their words instead of resorting to aggression to get their way. Look for and continue to praise good behavior as a way to motivate your children to do better next time.

What Not to Do

  • Never bite or hit back. It can be tempting to want to teach your child a lesson in how it feels to be the victim of aggression, but when you succumb to a childlike form of communication, you are teaching your child that aggression is the answer to resolving a conflict. Even though it’s difficult, try your best to maintain your composure.
  • Do not expose your child to violent television or video games. Too often TV and videos portray the most violent character as the hero, which sends the message that violence is a means to an end for problem-solving. This message can easily be avoided if you are on top of their viewing habits. While TV or video violence may not affect some kids, it may greatly influence others who have a tendency to act out aggressively with their friends. By knowing your child’s temperament and what he or she can withstand, you are helping them on their way towards their best behavior possible.
  • Do not personalize your child’s bad behavior. All too often parents get frustrated and angry at their child when they are aggressive, because many times we feel that our child’s poor behavior is a reflection of our parenting skills. If you have an aggressive child, switch your focus towards helping them express themselves in a more appropriate way and follow through when an incident occurs.

When Aggression is Extreme

While aggression can be normal in many children, you should be aware of when your child’s behavior has gone beyond the scope of what is considered within the normal boundaries for their developmental level. Look for the following signs in your child:

  • A pattern of defiant, disobedient, or hostile behavior towards you or other authority figures such as teachers or day care providers. A pattern means behavior that is not fleeting, but is chronic and does not respond to the above interventions.
  • Loses their temper easily
  • Constantly argues with adults
  • Deliberately engages in activities that knowingly annoy others
  • Blames others
  • Acts annoyed or is chronically touchy
  • Exhibits ongoing anger
  • Acts spiteful or vindictive

It is important to recognize that all young children may exhibit any or all of the above problems at some point during their development. However, if your child persistently displays these behaviors and it affects their daily functioning, such as their ability to behave at school or maintain friendships, contact your pediatrician, as it may indicate that they have other psychological problems that need attention. In this case, you will need to have your child evaluated by a mental health professional.

Parenting an aggressive child can be one of the greatest challenges you will face as you weave your way through the maze of his or her development. Even though it may seem like it at times, it’s not impossible to teach your child new and appropriate ways to interact with other children and the adults around them. The key is developing a clear, uncomplicated, consistent plan and following it in a composed manner. Remember: the best example of appropriate behavior is you, and your young child is watching.

Hitting, Biting and Kicking: How to Stop Aggressive Behavior in Young Children reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit

Dr. Joan Simeo Munson earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver. She has worked with incarcerated individuals, families, adolescents, and college students in a variety of settings, including county and city jails, community mental health centers, university counseling centers, and hospitals. She also has a background in individual, group, and couples counseling. Dr. Munson lives in the Boulder area with her husband and three energetic children, ages 14, 11, and 9.

How To Parent: How To Stay Calm When Kids Aggravate You On Purpose

Temper, Temper: Keeping Your Cool When Kids Push Your Buttons

Kids grow up watching you for a living, and let’s face it, they learn pretty quickly how to push your buttons. It might be back talk, or constant complaining or eye-rolling, but whatever the behavior, nearly every parent will occasionally lose their temper with their kids.

Many parents control their emotions most of the time. However, many don’t manage their emotions well, either occasionally or chronically. This article is for parents who struggle with keeping their emotions in check.

“If parents have problems with their child’s behavior and all they have in their parental tool kit are bigger hammers, the kids are going to develop bigger nails.”

In this discussion, “losing your temper” is generally defined as: yelling at kids, calling them names, slamming things on the counter, giving bigger consequences than are needed, and refusing to meet basic needs, such as by saying, “No supper tonight.” Power struggles can occur between parents and children over almost anything including, for younger children, bedtime, getting dressed, eating or not eating food, being verbally disrespectful, not responding to rules and limits, doing high-risk behavior such as playing with lighters and matches, or not staying on the sidewalk. With older children, the issues become much more focused on socializing, performing outside of the house, doing chores and assignments, and being dishonest and lying. I want to be clear that when I say “losing your temper,” I don’t mean physical violence. If parents find themselves engaging in aggressive physical behavior when their kids act out, they need help. Let me say this: that help is available. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of in seeking it out. Parents have to take responsibility when they find themselves crossing the line into physical abuse.

Two Reasons Why Parents Get Hot Under the Collar
Power Struggles: Parents often become enmeshed in power struggles with children. No matter what the child’s age, once you’re enmeshed in that power struggle, the more complex your emotions become, and the harder it is to get out.

Generally, in the case of a power struggle, parents feel that their power is being tested and challenged by the child. As that happens, parents often try to exert more power to get the child to comply or agree. Of course, the more the parent tries to exert power, the easier it is for the child to win simply by saying “no” or throwing out some excuse. This further frustrates parents until they reach their boiling point—let’s call this their “temper point.” Once parents reach their temper point in these situations, they often lose sight of the original reason why they tried to establish a limit, and they become overly engrossed in “Who’s in charge.” Believe me, many parents out there have found themselves in that situation.

Physical Risk: The other situation where parents reach their temper point is when they’re dealing with adolescents and pre-adolescents who are doing things outside of the home which their parents perceive as being too risky or dangerous. This can be physical risk, such as going to bad parts of town, or moral risk, as in engaging in manners of dress, music, and recreation which are against the parent’s values and beliefs. In these cases, parents try to set limits on children who are becoming more and more autonomous. Fears that they will get involved with the wrong crowd, use drugs and alcohol, or put themselves in physical danger can trigger some very heated situations where the child is fighting for what he perceives as his or her rights and freedoms. When kids say “Everybody’s doing it,” what they’re really saying is “I have a right to do it, and you have no right to stop me.” Remember, there is a very simple formula for understanding why teenagers break the rules. That formula goes like this: “That rule is unfair, and if it’s unfair then I don’t have to follow it.” Sadly, you will hear this formula stated in many different ways with teens and pre-teens nowadays.

Why Losing Your Temper with Your Kids Doesn’t Work
Look at it this way: If losing your temper was effective, being a parent would be really easy. We’d simply have to wait until our child was annoying us too much, then we’d yell at him, and he’d go out and change his behavior. I’ve often told parents in my office, “If yelling worked, I would just simply call the kids into my office and yell at them and they’d go home and have a good week.” In fact, if yelling worked, they never would have been in my office in the first place. But losing your temper doesn’t work. Losing your temper is ineffective because the original problem is often forgotten in the heat of the argument, and goes unsolved after all is said and done. Instead of the child learning problem-solving skills from the parent to manage the particular issue at hand, those problem-solving skills get supplanted with the parent’s power thrusts toward the kids. This is not to say that using power is bad or immoral. It’s simply ineffective if the child doesn’t learn problem-solving skills. Simply put, if parents have problems with their child’s behavior and all they have in their parental tool kit are bigger hammers, the kids are going to develop bigger nails. The day will come when that parent will not be able to manage their child by losing their temper. It must be understood that learning how to solve problems and manage emotions is the primary task of childhood. And if the parent isn’t teaching that, it’s hard for someone outside of the home, whether it be a therapist, counselor or teacher, to pick up those pieces effectively.

If you have a “hot temper,” get help. If you have a consistently hard time controlling your temper, or you find that anger manifests itself frequently, you can use the points in this article as a guideline for how to deal with your kids, but you have to take responsibility very quickly on getting the help you need. The word “hot temper” is code we use for people who are intolerant and can’t handle any kind of challenge or anxiety. This often is caused by issues other than child-raising, whether it’s stress from work, finances, relationship difficulties, or a parent’s own childhood experiences. Parents are responsible to get the outside help they need so that they can manage their kids appropriately.

Don’t Take Your Child’s Behavior Personally
Taking things personally means viewing that child’s behavior as a total reflection of your character, skills and worthiness as a parent. You often see this when kids act out in grocery stores or at the mall, and parents feel embarrassed and judged by others. There are two fallacies here: one is the belief that the other parents are judging you critically instead of feeling empathy for you because of their own experiences with their children. The other fallacy is to believe that their judgment matters, because it doesn’t. What matters is that you deal with your child effectively when he acts out in public. And if you don’t have the skills to do that, you make it your responsibility to get them. So the effective parent is not the one who never loses their temper; he or she is the one who finds a way to do something about it. Parents who experienced a lot of criticism and frustration in their own childhoods are more likely to see condemnation and disapproval in the eyes of others and react in an ineffective way. In those situations, where parents do not manage emotions effectively, the problems can escalate into a power struggle, which is something we really want to avoid with kids, especially in public.

Parents who take things personally often have a mindset that it’s not right or it’s not fair that their child should want to buy a toy or get distracted or not follow directions. That thinking just adds fuel to the fire of personalization. Know this with younger children: Whatever it is they’re doing, they’re usually not doing it to you. The more able you are not to project sinister motives into your child, the more objective you will be able to remain. The fact that you feel embarrassed by your child’s behavior does not mean in any way, shape, or form that your child is trying to embarrass you. Your child is either over-stimulated or distracted by something that’s not on your agenda. Sometimes children become locked in a power struggle that they don’t know how to resolve and don’t know how to stop. Remember, the time to teach them how to avoid power struggles is when you’re not in one. When a parent gets locked in a power struggle with a child of any age, the parent is the one that needs to have sufficient skills to avoid and manage it.

Decide What You’ll Do Ahead of Time.
There are two things that I think parents can do that will help them a lot when it comes to managing their emotions. The first is to plan ahead, and the second is to have a bail-out plan. Parents needs to plan for situations where they think their buttons are going to be pushed. Those situations are pretty easy to figure out if you just sit down and write yourself a list. First, write down situations and places outside of the home that are problematic. Examples might be going food shopping, going to the mall, or going to restaurants. You probably know ahead of time that you might have problems managing your emotions in reaction to your child’s behavior during those trips. Let’s face it, it’s easier to figure out what you’ll do when you’re calm and sitting in your kitchen than when you’re in aisle 3 of the local supermarket.

If your child does something in particular that aggravates you, plan on what your response will be. This is easy because you don’t have that many options to begin with. You could inform your child that you’ll give him one warning and then you’ll both be leaving the store if he misbehaves. You can plan on going to your car until your child calms down and you think they’re ready to try again. While you’re in your car, you can talk to your child about what they can do differently when they don’t get their way again after you go back into the store. If your child doesn’t calm down in the car, or if calming down in the car has not worked in the past, then you have to go home. After you go home, you can try it again later that day or the next day. In many cases, your child will learn how to handle these situations, but they won’t do it while they’re in the store. When children are in stores, malls or at playgrounds, it’s easy for them to become over-stimulated. Once that happens, it’s almost impossible for them to respond to outside direction unless it is very clear and powerful.

For kids ages 3 and up, a discussion about what’s going to happen before they go into the store or the playground while you’re still sitting in your car can be very helpful. With young children especially, writing down three rules on an index card to read before you leave the car can be significant in helping them learn self-management skills. There is something powerful to children about having something in writing. So you keep these rules in your glove compartment and before you go somewhere, review them with the child. The card could say: “No asking for extra things, we’re here to pick up specific items today. If you ask for extra things, you’re going to be told ‘no.’ If you or act out you will be removed from the store or the playground.”

Have a bail-out plan: Plan how to bail out of conflicts when your buttons are pushed, so that you don’t lose your temper. For instance, if you’re going to talk to your child about something anxiety-provoking or emotional, be prepared for when that child doesn’t react the way you want them to. Already know in your mind what you’re going to say or do. There are two ways to go about this: one is to calmly say to your child, “I have to talk to you about something important, I’ll be up to your room in about 15 minutes and I don’t want to argue or fight.” This gives your child time to prepare for the discussion. Also, during that time, you can decide what you’re going to do if your child starts to argue. The most obvious thing is to tell the child, “I don’t want to be talked to this way. I don’t like it,” and then leave the room. You can also say, “We can try to talk about this at 6 o’clock, until then, no cell phone, video game or TV.” Parents who are mentally prepared for how they’re going to act when children react have a much greater chance of not losing their temper.

If You Lose Your Temper
Acknowledge to your child that you’ve lost your temper, but not in overly emotional terms. Just as we want to teach children to own their behavior without a lot of justifications and excuses, so should we model that behavior for them. I think the best thing to do is admit you were wrong and explain to your child what you’ll do differently next time they act that way instead of losing your temper. But work out with yourself what you’ll do differently the next time you’re at the point of losing your temper. Also, I believe parents should have a support group they can talk to if they find themselves losing control of their temper often. I say “group” but it may only be one or two people with whom you can share about how you’ve lost your temper with your kids. It is very helpful to have somebody outside of your family, preferably with children of their own, to talk to about the day-to-day parental situations which occur. If you don’t have that in your life, the Parental Support Line for the Total Transformation® Program can really help with these types of situations.

How to Calm Down When Your Anger has Reached the Boiling Point
When we’re talking about parents calming down, we’re talking about them “self-soothing.” In other words, they soothe themselves by managing their own thoughts, not by controlling the environment around them. So when your child is challenging your authority, what you are thinking will be critical to how you will respond. If you’re thinking, “This behavior isn’t fair, everybody thinks I’m a failed parent, other parents don’t go through this,” or are repeating some other self-defeating self-talk, things are sure to escalate. But when you’re thinking, “I can handle this, this is a child misbehaving, not a reflection of my parenting skills, other parents go through this, what can I do safely about this now,” there’s a much better chance that there won’t be a conflict. Remember, advice such as “Count to ten” only works if you try to think positively while you’re counting to ten. So if you’re counting to ten saying, “Don’t overreact, this is just childish behavior, how can I best handle this, what does the child need from me now,” there’s a good chance counting to ten will work. Similarly, if you have a conflict with your child at home and you go into another room and take ten deep breaths—that’s a seven second inhale, seven second hold your breath, seven second exhale—and you think positively while you’re doing that, like “How can I best handle that situation, how important is this to me, how can I make this work without fighting,” you’ll have a much better chance of resolving this situation effectively.

Whatever’s going on, whatever your child is doing, losing your temper won’t help. It may feel good in the short term, because you feel powerful, but in the long run the child has learned an ineffective lesson about managing anxiety or conflict.

Temper, Temper: Keeping Your Cool When Kids Push Your Buttons reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit

James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James’ foremost goal was to help kids and to “empower parents.”