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Attention parents: Tame your tempers

Janie Magruder Arizona Republic

The temperature inside your car isn’t all that’s red-hot these days.

Because kids are out of school, you’re juggling more schedules, giving more rides and feeling more unappreciated than usual, and your temper is flaring more, too.

Temper tantrums among parents are as common as trips to the grocery store. According to a 2003 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, 88 percent of nearly 1,000 parents interviewed reported shouting, yelling or screaming at their children. Researchers said nearly all parents of 7-year-olds admitted yelling at their second-graders.

“We see a lot of it,” says psychologist Marlo Archer, whose practice focuses on children and teens. “And we always look at how well the parents behave, because we can never expect better than that for their kids.”

Parents typically yell when they’re frustrated, Archer says, and can’t figure out how to solve a problem, whether it’s getting their girl in bed on time or their boy to eat his vegetables.

Parents want to control their children’s behavior, Archer says, rather than teach them to make choices and accept the consequences or rewards of doing so. When a child misbehaves, the parent feels like a failure, and anxiety and anger boil over.

“What we should be doing is setting guidelines and boundaries and making it real clear, ‘When you do behavior A, you get reward A, and when you do behavior B, you get consequence B. Go ahead and choose whatever you like,” she says.

Parents would be better off focusing on themselves, growing up and calming down, says Hal Runkel, a Georgia family therapist and author of “ScreamFree Parenting: Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool” (Oakmont, $16.95). It’s difficult work, much harder than yelling, because it requires a commitment to believing that your kids should not be the most important beings in your life, Runkel says.

“We are ultimately the only ones we can control,” he says. “If I’m going to raise them to be independent human beings, my main job is to give them the freedom to make their own choices and face the consequences for those choices.”

Some have criticized Runkel’s approach as being selfish and lax, but he said it’s neither. Kids need boundaries; he calls it “space” (the emotional and physical territory one occupies in the world) and “place” (the fence around one’s space that limits his or her freedom as it bumps against another’s space). When a child ventures outside his clearly defined space and place, he suffers and learns.

There is no yelling.

“Where do we want to be, standing over them when they’ve made a mistake: ‘Had you listened to me’ or ‘I told you so’?” asks Runkel, who has two young children. “I want to be around for them as they suffer through this, (saying) ‘Tell me more, I’m here.’ ”

When parents get anxious and yell, it sends kids running, often to trouble, which Runkel says is worse than children making and learning from their own bad decisions.

Yelling at kids only helps them learn to manipulate and become yellers themselves.

“Sometimes the yelling gets the results we’re so anxiously in need of in the moment, to get them to behave, to get them to do what we need,” Runkel says. “But we never stop to think of ‘What’s my definition of success?’ We do whatever we can to get our kids to comply, but at what cost to the relationship?”

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