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See Inside October/November 2008

Tempering Toddler Tantrums Now May Prevent Aggression Later

Emotional outbursts afflict virtually all toddlers. Some children, however, are prone to more violent fits that could—if left unchecked—pave a path toward persistent aggression



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Three-year-old Merle throws a tantrum in the supermarket whenever her mother refuses to buy something she wants. Little Anna screams wildly when her mother interrupts her playing to put on a jacket so the family can go out. Ben, an adorable towhead, barely two, bites into furniture and toys as soon as anyone drops the word “no.”

Merle, Anna and Ben are in the tantrum phase—sometimes referred to as “the terrible twos”—and they dispense frustration and anger to everyone around them. (All of the names of the children mentioned in this article have been changed to protect their privacy.) Reasoning is useless; threats and punishment fail to stem the bawling, agitation and aggression. And then, just as suddenly as it begins, it is over: the child is cuddling up to Mommy or Daddy for comfort. Small wonder that so many parents feel powerless to control these mini crises.

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