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This 4th of July, Set Your Family Free

Do you ever feel that your family is at the mercy of your toddler? Did you know that part of your job as a parent is to set your toddlers free? "Free from what?" you may wonder. "They seem pretty free already! In fact, they seem to feel free to demand what they want and throw a tantrum if they don't get it!"

That's it exactly--they are in bondage to their impulses. If your children ever go into a rage or throw a tantrum, scream "no!", stamp their feet, burst into tears, etc. they are being ruled by their impulses, and that means you likely are, too. They need to learn to rule these emotional outbursts so that peace is restored to the family.

"But isn't it unhealthy to stifle our feelings or try to ignore them?" This is true, but I'm not speaking of ignoring or stifling them, I'm talking about putting them in their proper place--a place where they can be managed, and where they don't hold the rest of the world around them hostage.

Let's face it, it's exhausting to be jerked around by powerful emotions; learning to express them appropriately is freedom. Our children need this freedom, and we are the only ones who can teach them how to get it.

Every day will bring times when your children face a barrier to what they want, when they want it. The answer isn't to remove the barrier--you mustn't stop saying "no" and you'd be wrong to just give them everything they want to avoid an outburst or meltdown. Instead, you must gently but firmly refuse to allow the tantrums to take center stage, by teaching them how to be "in charge" of their feelings.

When you are together at a meal, get eye contact with them and tell them that, from now on, when they feel really mad and want to scream, they will need to go to the "mad room" (this can be a powder room or small utility or laundry room). Explain that it's not nice to make other people watch them scream, but they can come out of the mad room when they are "in charge" of their anger. Next time they get wound up to explode, gently lead them to this room, where they are free to express their feelings. They may join the family once they have collected themselves and mastered their reaction.

If you can help a toddler learn to identify his anger and gain the mastery of it, you will have given him a wonderful gift of freedom, and made the world a better place!

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