The following came during a Boston.com readers' Q&A with Child Caring writer Barbara Meltz:
Question: Hi Barbara - My daughter turned 3 last month and seems to have taken a bad turn in terms of behavior. She now says "No", "I don't want to", and "that's not a good idea" to everything we ask her to do. She has even swiped at me a couple of times when asking her to do something. She's generally a good kid, but when she gets upset, there is no calming her down. We've tried time outs, talking with her, explaining things, but it's not working. Any suggestions?
Barbara Meltz: Sounds like your daughter is right on, developmentally, that is, she's at a new stage of cognition, she's testing out the power of limits -- yours and hers -- and she's generally trying to get a sense of her world and where she fits into it.
The best thing you can do is give her as much control and power of her life as makes sense so she sees she is not powerless, but also be clear and consistent in terms of cause and effect, consequences and limit-setting.
So for instance, give her choices whenever possible, but only if you are able to abide by her decision: "Do you want to wear the green shirt or the red one?" If she insists she doesn't want a bath tonight and that's not a choice, find another way to give her control. Say: "A bath is not a choice, but you can decide if you want your story before or after the bath."
The more choices she has, the less likely she will be to tantrum over what's beyond her. Meanwhile, when you set limits, be clear what they are, don't waffle, and be sure the consequences are related to the event.
Forget time-out. She's too young. She's also too young for too much explaining. Keep it simple and direct: "The car can't go until all the seatbelts are fastened." Even if that means being late.
When she has a huge meltdown, don't try to comfort her, as long as she is safe; a tantruming child cannot hear what you are saying. But being in a tantrum is scary to a child; she feels out of control. After it's over, that's the time to talk to her: "I bet that felt scary, when you were so upset. Can you tell me about it?" The fact that you can tolerate the tantrum, and that you still love her afterwards, is huge. My all-time-requested column is called Mini-Magic, with lots of strategies for this age. Email me for a copy, firstname.lastname@example.org
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