Tantrum Tamer: New Ways Parents Can Stop Bad Behavior

Forget everything you may have read about coping with children's temper tantrums. Time-outs, sticker charts, television denial—for many, none of these measures will actually result in long-term behavior change, according to researchers at two academic institutions.

Instead, a set of techniques known as "parent management training" is proving so helpful to families struggling with a child's unmanageable behavior that clinicians in the U.S. and the U.K. are starting to adopt them.

Aimed at teaching parents to encourage sustained behavior change, it was developed in part at parenting research clinics at Yale University and King's College London.

Even violent tantrums, or clinging to the point of riding on a parent's leg, can be curbed, researchers say.

These behaviors appear to be partly influenced by genetic factors, studies show, but parents can also inadvertently encourage them—for example, by paying attention only when the child screams or cries, but not when the child is playing quietly.

Simply rewarding good behavior isn't particularly effective, says Alan Kazdin, a Yale psychology professor and head of the Yale Parenting Center. "Every parent on the planet has tried charts and point programs," he says. Explaining to a child why you want them to do something, or punishing them with long time-outs, isn't effective either, he says.

Instead, the training focuses on three components known as the ABCs: the Antecedent, or the environment and events that set the stage for a tantrum or other undesirable action.

Then there is the Behavior itself, and how parents can help a child learn new behaviors, in some cases using pretend scenarios.

The Consequences component involves reinforcing a positive behavior or discouraging a negative one.

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