Parents seem to struggle with what to do i.e. to punish or not, what punishment is appropriate -- but rarely is information offered about how to enhance the child's capacity to control the strong feelings they have that catapults them "out of control".
When children cannot manage strong feelings, we see difficult behaviour. When younger children have strong feelings in their psyche, they become more disorganized inwardly.
To make matters worse, parents also get "stirred up" when children's feelings become strong. The upset is contagious.
Children of all ages become more able to cope and manage the strong impulses better when they are able to calm down. (The same is true for adults.)
Therefore, the most effective way to help children manage better is to help them calm down so they are again able to think clearly and not be overwhelmed with strong feelings.
Parents are usually the best ones to help children calm down. How exactly do they do this?
When the child's mind gets muddled with strong feelings, he falls apart. The temper tantrum, for example, occurs when feelings become so strong they overwhelm the child, the child can no longer think clearly nor function. This is a frightening state for anyone -- to lose our capacity to function at the level we normally are able to manage.
Again, having a parent stay nearby, talk in a soothing voice, putting into words what has upset the toddler, getting the toddler onto his feet to reassure him he hasn't really fallen apart and can still walk often helps the child regain equilibrium. This approach helps him strengthen his ego which enables him to cope better with new frustrations in future.
Slowly, the child can manage better. It helps throughout childhood and into adolescence to have a parent who is able to figure out what is behind the difficult behaviour and can help the child calm down enough that they too can understand what their poor behaviour is about.
Parents help more than they'll ever know just by being there in the simplest, mundane, everyday ways. Being there, over and over, to help overcome the inner chaos is the slow, tedious process that helps in organizing the psyche in a way that eventually leads to newly developing self-control.
This may sound simple but it's hard tedious work for parents and drains them.
No parent can be there all the time but we can all be there some of the time, and that connection is beneficial to children's psychological development.
Barbara Burrows is a psychotherapist who works with a group of professional advisers to address the questions sent to her by concerned parents. Questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.