Teaching your child

Best way to keep children safe from rage is to plan ahead

Best way to keep children safe from rage is to plan ahead

October 04, 2002|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

What were your thoughts when you saw the videotape of Madelyne Gorman Toogood beating her 4-year-old in a parking lot?

I've thought about that young mother and her daughter a lot.

I ache for the little girl, whose spirit probably was crushed by that experience. But I also feel for the mother whose lack of self-control, be it only momentary, will haunt her the rest of her life.

As adults, we have a responsibility to protect - and not harm - children.

But we make mistakes. We may not physically harm our children when circumstances aren't to our liking, but do we verbally harm them?

Parents who are overly critical, who compare their children to other children, who degrade them or threaten them are causing emotional harm, says Leslie Haney, parent aide program director for the Parent-Child Center in Hagerstown.


"Emotional abuse can almost be as bad as being hit," says Haney, a mother of three. "You don't want to scare your child into behaving."

It's important to stay calm when disciplining children.

"Your child needs to feel secure with you," Haney says. "You are a child's basic security."

Many conflicts can be avoided if parents use a proactive approach, Haney says.

The key is for the child to know what is expected of him. If a child doesn't know in advance what your expectations are, how is he supposed to meet those expectations?

"We believe in setting firm limits," Haney says. "It sounds like we put too much emphasis on planning ahead, but we have found that that is the best way to keep children safe."

So how should you plan ahead? Anticipate ways that the child could misbehave and have a plan for how you will respond to and correct that behavior. Be realistic about your expectations.

Need to go to the grocery store? Don't go when everyone is tired and hungry.

Be creative when you'd like to redirect a child's behavior. If he's misbehaving in a store, hand him a cereal box and let him look at the pictures and read the information. If he's handling something that's off-limits, do a swap with him - an apple for an egg, for example.

This can be done in a calm, controlled fashion. Haney calls it "nonchalant discipline."

"You want to keep things as low-key as possible," Haney says. "You have to maintain your composure.

"There are all kinds of things parents can do to keep their stress level down."

Try to have a sense of humor. See if you can get the child to laugh in the middle of a fit.

Simply saying, "Mommy needs a break right now" or "I think we all need to calm down" can work wonders.

Do your kids argue in the car? Turn on opera or classical music to drown out their whines.

Tired of conflicts as everyone's arriving home?

Tell your family you need a few minutes to start dinner and then you can all sit down and talk about the day and look at what they've brought home. This can be a special - and not hectic - time.

"We believe parents should be nurturers, and gently guide them through childhood," Haney says.

What does gentle guidance entail?

Treating children with the same respect we give to friends or co-workers. Not raising our voices unless the house is on fire. Using good manners when asking them to do something.

In essence, making it a little easier for them to obey the rules.

"Children want to please us," Haney says. "They want you to tell them that they are being good. They need validating."

They also need affection, and plenty of it. Sometimes a parent's touch - a hug, a stroke of the hair - is all that's needed to soothe a frustrated child.

Have you hugged your little ones today?

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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