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Stopping Temper Tantrums Before They Start

Click this image to watch Alan Kazdin on the Today Show.

Click this image to watch Alan Kazdin on the Today Show.

Shoving, punching, and belligerent insults aren’t just for ruffians at biker bars and soccer games. At some point or another, most children throw temper tantrums. But changing the child’s behavior is not the key to stopping these fits — it’s the parents who have to change.

“Most of the parenting methods, most of the parenting books, most of the advice is not based on research, and very much of it violates what we actually know,” said APS Fellow Alan Kazdin in this interview with the Today Show. Kazdin, who directs the Yale Parenting Center, said that punishing bad behavior won’t stop tantrums. Instead, parents should be praising good behavior and ignoring the bad.

In the video, a therapist from the Yale Parenting Center demonstrates Kazdin’s method to a family with a young boy who had daily temper tantrums that were so violent the child would vomit. Called parent management training, the therapist helps parents learn to reward their child for specific good behaviors. The parents were also taught how to manage their response if their child had another ear-shattering fit. Because most parents use discipline strategies used by their parents, it’s not easy for them to change their approach to tantrums. But the mother of this little boy said the rapid changes she saw in her son’s behavior were worth the effort.

Educational psychologist and Today Show contributor Michele Borba offers more research-based advice in the video. Above all, she said, the key to quelling a tantrum is to stay calm.

In addition to sharing scientifically proven parenting strategies, Alan Kazdin is Founding Editor of Clinical Psychological Science, the newest APS Journal. Keep an eye out for an editorial and an interview with Kazdin about the new journal  in the March issue of the Observer.

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