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Here are some tips to help you handle conflicts, fights and angry situations with your child.

If you're overwhelmed, give yourself a time-out. You might simply say, ‘I need a moment to calm down’. When children see you calm down, they might calm down too. ‘Nothing is quite as powerful for a child as a parent who just stops to think about his own feelings’, advises Michael Thompson, co-author of Raising Cain.

Try not to criticise your child for ‘pouting’. It’s normal to feel discouraged at times. Consider how you feel when you get criticised or don’t get your way about something important.

Explain a time-out or disciplinary action without attacking your child. If you give a time-out, explain why. You might say, ‘You need a time-out to cool down’. Use a rational tone, otherwise your child might hear only your anger and not think about the consequences of the behaviour.

Don't drag out a fight with too much discussion. If either you or your child is feeling out of control or in a rage, a lot of talking might not help. In fact, it could prolong the conflict.

If you’re not sure what to do or how to discipline your child, take a break. You can always tell your child, ‘I will be back in a minute with my decision’.

Avoid physical power struggles. Using your size and strength only heightens the conflict. Imagine a child is feeling furious and picks up a stick. If you grab it before the child has time to give it up voluntarily, the child might try to hit you with it. Instead, you can avert danger and acknowledge your child’s power by saying, ‘Please put that down. You could hurt someone you love’.

If your child tries to hit you anyway, firmly but gently stop her if you can. Then try to mirror her feelings back to her. For example, you could say, ‘I know you’re angry that we have to leave, but hitting is not OK’.

If your child does actually hit you, try not to hit back in anger. This will just teach your child that it’s OK to hit when you’re frustrated. Instead, try to use this as a ‘teaching moment’. For example, let your child see that you’re upset and say, ‘Ouch, you hit me. That really hurt.’

Try not to take your child's strong feelings personally. Many parents feel frustrated or personally attacked if their child criticises or explodes at them. Michael Thompson adds, ‘Don’t take your child’s strong feelings personally all the time. “I hate you” is not actually a personal statement. What your child really might be saying is “I hate your power”’.

Keep breathing and stay relaxed. ‘It's hard not to tense up when your child is getting out of control, but if you stay relaxed, she’s more likely to follow’, recommends Thompson. Sometimes we start holding our breath when things get tense. Instead, inhale, exhale and then talk through your own feelings in a clear and (if necessary) firm way.

Ask yourself, ‘Do I really need to fight about this?’
All parents fight with their kids over stupid things. If you can cut down unnecessary fights by 20% and say this isn’t worth a battle, life will be better. However, if you are avoiding 80% of battles, then you are avoiding being an authority.
– Michael Thompson, PhD, co-author of Raising Cain
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  • Last updated or reviewed 13-05-2010
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