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Three, Two, One ... Meltdown!

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"What's the best way to handle tantrums, whining and ungratefulness? Do time-outs work? What sort of discipline is best? Will I just make things worse?" These are the questions that run through a parent's mind during the difficult toddler and preschool years, when children want what they want when they want it. We talk to the experts for some advice.

kid tantrum
We sat down with parenting and psychology experts Rex Forehand, Ph.D., and Nicholas Long, Ph.D., to pick their brains about their newest edition of "Parenting the Strong-Willed Child." In it, they arm parents with a unique research-based and self-guided five-week program to help effectively manage all of their toddler's ups and downs.

momlogic: We're sure that all parents think their child is headstrong from time to time, but how does a parent know if her child is truly strong-willed?

Rex Forehand:For many parents, the first sign that their child might be strong-willed is a very strong sense of independence during her toddler and early-preschool years. Of course, this can be positive in many ways, since children who are independent are often also assertive, confident, determined and persistent. Unfortunately, however, such a strong sense of independence also frequently leads to young children becoming stubborn, argumentative and defiant.

One of the primary signs that a child's strong will is problematic is that she is frequently noncompliant to parental instructions. Most strong-willed preschoolers who develop behavior problems follow instructions less than 60 percent of the time. In our book, we teach parents specific strategies to improve how well their young child follows instructions. Following instructions most of the time is not only important within the family, but is critical to children's later success in school.

ml: So, is strong-willed behavior different from Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Nicholas Long:Yes! Many people confuse strong-willed behavior with ADHD. The core symptoms of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Behaviors often associated with being strong-willed include stubbornness, defiance and argumentativeness. Whereas ADHD affects only approximately 3 to 7 percent of children, behavior problems associated with being strong-willed are much more common. While it is possible for a child to have ADHD and also be strong-willed, most strong-willed children do not have ADHD. Our book has a chapter on ADHD to help parents better understand the disorder -- and realize how it differs from being strong-willed.

ml: How can parents use play to strengthen their relationships with their children?

There is a growing consensus that one of the most important ways to strengthen the parent-child relationship is through play. Unfortunately, in today's society there is a shrinking amount of time available for playing with our children. Therefore, it is critical that parents set aside time every day to play with their children. To strengthen your relationship with your child, it is important that you not over-control the play.

Try to simply describe his or her activities while he is playing.For instance, you could say, "You are filling the bucket up with sand" rather than, "Why don't you build a sandcastle over there?" This lets your child feel free to play as he chooses -- within reason! -- and know that you are interested in him and his activities. In our book, we explain how parents can use a skill called "attending" to facilitate play. It increases creativity and improves the parent-child relationship.

ml: How can teachers assist in disciplining strong-willed children? Is this even appropriate, or should the responsibility be solely on the parent?

NL:Discipline should not be viewed as solely the responsibility of the parent. If a child's behavior is problematic at school, it is important for the teacher and parent to work together to address problems. It is also critical that discipline not be viewed as synonymous with punishment. Discipline refers to teaching a child how to behave well. While punishment is one component of discipline, the most effective discipline approaches focus on positive strategies such as encouragement, praise and positive attention, as well as on setting clear and consistent limits. Since children can learn to behave differently in different settings and with different caregivers, it is important that, when possible, similar discipline strategies be used by parents, teachers and other caregivers.

ml:How is the transforming role of fathers changing parenting, especially in the case of strong-willed children?

NL:As fathers become more actively involved in day-to-day parenting activities, their influence on their children's behavior increases. Having two parents actively involved in rearing a strong-willed child can be especially beneficial. Parenting a strong-willed child can be very demanding, and being able to share the parenting responsibilities can reduce the stress. However, when both parents are actively involved, it is important that they be as consistent as possible. While no two parents are ever going to be totally consistent, it is important that they strive to be as consistent as possible when parenting their children. The strategies that we teach parents in our book are especially effective when used by both parents.

next: Could ADHD Ruin Your Marriage?
161 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous November 6, 2010, 3:53 PM

If a parent can’t be bothered with teaching its child how to behave then when that child enters my classroom it will learn - Break-times are gone, lunchtime is reduced, and homework is written out more than once. Parents, please teach your children. You are the only ones who will ever love them enough to get them through life successfully. You can be sure that their teachers want them to succeed but, unfortunately, our time is limited. Your time isn’t. I know you pretend it is, but it isn’t. Quit drinking with your friends. Quit the TV. Sell the XBox. You have the time, I don’t. CARE for your children. Please. Do it.

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