Help angry child to learn self-control

PARENT Q&A

October 28, 2001|By T. BERRY BRAZELTON, M.D., | T. BERRY BRAZELTON, M.D.,,NEW YORK TIMES SPECIAL FEATURES

Q. When presented with the issue of a child harming other children or siblings by biting, hitting or pushing, you usually recommend that the parents "leave it to the children" so they can "learn about each other." You add the caveat "while still ensuring their safety." Yet I don't believe I've ever seen you give an example of how one allows the children to work it out and at the same time ensures their safety.

Specifically, if an older brother (9 years old) continues to hit a younger sibling (5 years old), how do I ensure the safety of the younger one?

A. You need to be available to the children and ready to protect them when they are out of control and could hurt each other. But this does not mean stepping in to interfere for each minor squabble or argument.

Certainly, after each episode when you do need to step in, I'd try to talk about it with each child separately. The younger one needs to learn how to protect himself -- even how to get out of harm's way -- and to let his older brother know how much it hurts.

As for the older boy, it sounds as if you have work to do. Try to help him to recognize his competitive feelings and to "use his words" instead of his hands. Help him see that he has problems in the area of self-control. Ask him whether he has any suggestions for you to use when he's building up to a breaking point. Can you help him learn to control his angry feelings by turning to some favorite activity or to you? He is probably as frustrated as you are by his inability to control himself at these times. Discipline and holding him, even comforting him when he shows out-of-control impulses are ways of helping him learn the important job of self-control.

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